ATHABASCA – There hasn’t been a lot of movement as far as the Boyle Healthcare Centre staffing issues, which has been the most outstanding healthcare issue facing the region, but Athabasca mayor Rob Balay had good things to report about the progress the Regional Health Care Attraction and Retention Committee (RHCARC) is making in other regards.
Balay had a lot of good things to say about the work of the committee since it was formed last year, and shared some of the details with councillors at town’s Dec. 20 regular meeting as part of his monthly report.
“The Boyle hospital is an issue for Athabasca as well,” he said. “With Boyle not having emergency services. It puts a lot of pressure on our staff, and our doctors here, so it makes sense to work with Boyle and lobby to make sure that we get those services back.”
He noted he was once again elected chair of the committee and Gerry Kiselyk will continue as vice-chair. There are currently four elected officials; four public members; one member from Alberta Health Services, another from RhPap; one physician resource rep; and two local doctors. The mandate of the committee, of course, is to attract and retain medical professionals into the small-town medical professions.
Right now, the Boyle hospital is unable to operate 24 hours a day, primarily due to not being able to provide a registered nurse to cover the night shift. It is one of dozens of rural hospitals across Alberta suffering from staffing shortages and having to cut their hours.
“The purpose of the committee is to get new individuals moving in and getting them connected and integrated into the community on an ongoing basis, so that's kind of been our focus,” Balay said, noting there is planning underway with Aspen View Public Schools and RhPap for a high school skills event in March that will help open up students to some of the opportunities in healthcare.
They expect about 40 high school students to take part in the event at the Multiplex.
“Local health officials from the doctors’ offices, ambulance services, hospital staff, physio, massage, PCN and other fields will be asked to participate. This is expected to become a yearly event,” he noted.
There are a few highlights to report as far as staffing as well.
“I also had some good news, there’s two young, registered nurses who are coming back to the area, so that will be good,” said Balay, adding there is actually another as well who has recently married a local gentleman. “I expect they will be a resource in the community for a long time.”
“That’s huge,” said Coun. Sara Graling.
Balay also mentioned Dr. Inga Secieru is expected to arrive sometime in April or May, and the committee is working hard to find a three-bedroom rental property for the family. He also reported Athabasca’s newest physician Dr. Paras Shrestha and his family are continuing to integrate into the community, with the kids doing well at school, though they are looking for a different rental property as well. In addition, there is another potentially interested physician that is considering the town through the recently introduced RESIDE program, he said.
“We also have a couple of interns scheduled to take their training/mentoring at the Athabasca hospital. The committee tries to keep in contact with these young, soon-to-be doctors, to make sure their experience in our facility, healthcare system and community is as enjoyable and memorable as possible,” he said.
“I think we’ve done some of the yeoman’s work as a committee and we’ve been lucky to get some results. But it’s never-ending. Part of our focus going forward is going to be on showing appreciation for those individuals who are in our communities and finding ways we can do that in a meaningful way.”