ATHABASCA/BARRHEAD/WESTLOCK - In an effort not to overwhelm local family doctors during the drastic rise in COVID-19 Omicron variant cases, the Aspen Primary Care Network (APCN) is offering both resources and support to residents who wish to self-report positive test results to their doctors.
APCN is one of 12 primary care networks in Alberta Health Service’s North Zone consisting of a team of healthcare professionals providing coordinated care, improving access to the health system, and supporting positive changes towards a healthier lifestyle. Athabasca, Barrhead and Westlock are all included in the Aspen PCN coverage area.
Executive director Lori Apostal said in an e-mail last week that during chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s Dec. 30 update, she told the public they should notify their family doctors if their rapid antigen test (RAT) comes back positive.
“This had the potential to overwhelm some family physician practices that are not set up to respond to a high volume of calls. In addition, Alberta Health called on primary care networks to redirect resources to help manage the Omicron surge for the next six to eight weeks. The objectives were to help reduce unnecessary emergency department visits and support the family physicians,” she said.
A North Zone Primary Care COVID-19 Response Team has also been established to provide support to those who come down with a case of the highly transmissible variant of the virus. This includes teams of triage nurses located in Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie who will assess patients over the phone and update the patient’s family doctor and arrange for the care of their illness.
As of Jan. 11, North Zone residents can access these services in two ways — on the website at www.northzonepcns.ca, where they will complete a rapid antigen test reporting and intake form, or by calling 1-833-884-2193 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday to speak with a member of the triage team. The response team will then attempt contact between 8:30 a.m. and 10 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The virtual PCN clinics see the Wood Buffalo PCN managing the intake phone line and Tier 1, said Apostal. The Grande Prairie PCN handles the web intake, for Tier 1 and Tier 2, while the Bonnyville PCN manages Tier 2. The Aspen PCN will be brought online to provide further Tier 1 support, should volumes increase.
Apostal said she is waiting for early data to explore the numbers and trends but is hearing anecdotally that patients are saying they feel supported and appreciate the service.
“If you call the intake line and identify that you have any symptoms whatsoever, you will be put through to the Tier 1 line whereby you will be assessed by a nurse or respiratory therapist,” she said.
Then, depending on that assessment an appointment may be made with your family physician, or if you do not have a family physician, you may be put through to Tier 2 where you will be further assessed by a physician or nurse practitioner. Some may be directed to visit an emergency department, or scheduled for a follow-up call from the nurse in 24-48 hours.