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Letter: Lac La Biche doctors explain resignation plans

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Dr. Richard Birkill and nine other doctors in Lac La Biche have issued an intent to leave their hospital duties and focus only on their medical clinic duties due to new GOA pay scales.

Editor's Note: Lac La Biche doctor and W.J. Cadzow Hospital Chief of Staff Richard Birkill asked to write a letter to our regional readers to explain the decision of 10 area doctors to halt their hospital duties in July. The doctors will remain in their current practice at Lac La Biche's Associated Medical Clinic, but would no longer provide on-call shifts at the community hospital. Birkill was asked to comment in the most recent news article from on the resignation notice the doctors issued on Thursday. He preferred to make his statement through this letter.

Dear Patients,

First of all, we want to reassure the community that we will completely support the hospital and all medical services in Lac La Biche during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will not make any changes to our practice until we are past this crisis. We have no plans to close the clinic.

 The UCP broke the collective bargaining agreement with the AMA, which is illegal. They refused to go to arbitration as they are obliged to do. Instead they are using the pandemic to push through their agenda.

They know full well that we will not compromise on our integrity and commitment to our patients and our community.

The changes forced through by the UCP target rural healthcare disproportionately. We are, therefore, obliged to stand up and fight for our community and a sustainable rural healthcare system. This absolutely requires that our practices remain sustainable and viable. We are essential infrastructure for the health care system.

In order to maintain that viability under government’s cuts we will need to stop providing medical services through the hospital and focus on the Medical clinic. This is not a decision that we have taken lightly. While we do not want to make any practice changes, unfortunately, we have no other choice. The reality is that we can no longer support our current business arrangements and practice styles. We have been forced to make changes that we hope will have the least impact on patient care, while still allowing us to keep our clinic running.Although the UCP has pulled back on 1 of 12 of their imposed changes, there are still significant issues. The AHS fees and cuts to our Medical Liability Reimbursement alone are so severe that the income we generate from low-volume obstetrics, for example, may not even cover our Canadian Medical Protective Association insurance. As small business owners, this is simply not sustainable.

We have been working with the community for decades to create a sustainable system for Lac La Biche. Smaller rural areas are historically hard to recruit to and the government’s changes have made rural practice nonviable. There are currently 39 vacancies in the north zone, including two in Lac La Biche. This is extremely worrying and filling these vacancies is now virtually impossible.

We will continue to serve our patients – through this pandemic and beyond – but the government’s changes do not make our current business arrangements and practice styles economically viable.


Dr. Richard Birkill, Dr. Handre deRidder, Dr. Coenraad Claassens, Dr. Laurette Laubscher, Dr. Raylene Lategan, Dr. Eugene Marais, Dr. Cornelius Nortje, Dr. Barend Herbst, Dr. Feroz Parker and Dr. Tracy-Lee Lindenberg

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