Health delegation coming before council
A delegation from the Sundre health-care attraction committee, made up of Sundre physicians, chamber of commerce officials and others, is scheduled to make a presentation at the Town of Sundre’s governance committee meeting this week.
In an interview on Friday, Dr. Hal Irvine explained that the delegation’s presentation will be similar to one made before Mountain View County council last month.
During the presentation to county, chamber secretary and committee member Heidi Overguard said, in part: “There are three things we would like from the county. One: representation on our attraction committee. Two: a commitment to engage with us. The third thing is a commitment to work with the Town of Sundre to share an $18,000 housing grant for each physician recruited.”
Dr. Irvine, who co-chairs the committee, told county councillors that there was a need to attract six doctors during the next 15 months to fill the 10 positions required for Sundre, but that two doctors had already been recruited.
“We have two committed and we’re looking for four more. So we’re talking about $36,000 now and $72,000 later,” Irvine said of the total funding amounts required.
“The main barriers we have right now are around temporary housing and our current clinic space. There’s very little temporary housing in Sundre and very little rental accommodations,” he said.
Irvine said the doctors recruited by the committee would be expected to make a three-year commitment to practising in the area.
Following the county presentation, Sundre Mayor Annette Clews said any funding commitment by the town would have to be decided by Sundre council, but added that she “would like to work more together as a group” to recruit and retain doctors.
Meanwhile, Dr. Irvine says he hopes a new federal student loan forgiveness program for rural doctors and nurses will help attract more of the health-care providers to towns such as Sundre.
“I think it is a good thing,” he said. “How much it will help with recruiting new graduates to rural areas I’m not sure, but certainly any incentive like this that makes it easier or provides an extra reason for people to try out rural areas is a good thing.
“This is one good piece of the puzzle to try and encourage doctors and other health-care professionals to come to rural areas.
“On one hand I’m always a little leery of financial incentives because if you attract someone who is just interested in the money and really doesn’t want to be there, then they won’t stay and unhappy doctors make for unhappy patients. But on the other hand, any incentive that removes barriers and makes it easier for people to come is good for rural communities.”
The Harper government announced last week that eligible family doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners who work in rural communities will have a portion of their Canada Student Loan forgiven starting in spring 2013, a move the government says will lead to improved primary health care in rural communities.
The announcement was made by Parliamentary Secretary Dr. Kellie Leitch on behalf of the Honourable Diane Finley, minister of human resources and skills development, and the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, minister of health.
“Our government is committed to strengthening primary health-care services in rural communities,” says Dr. Leitch. “Today’s announcement will not only alleviate the high cost of education and training for many Canadians in this field, but will also encourage more health-care professionals to work in the communities that need them most.”
In Economic Action Plan 2011, the government announced that family doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners who began working in a designated community on, or after, April 1, 2012 will be eligible to apply for partial student loan forgiveness.
This applies to most communities with a population of 50,000 or less, including communities that provide health services to First Nations, Inuit and Métis populations.
Economic Action Plan 2012 further clarified that the measure will also include residents in family medicine.
“Our government’s investment will help to attract more medical professionals to our smaller communities and improve access to health-care services for people who live beyond large urban areas,” says Minister Aglukkaq.
“This is another example of our government acting to strengthen health care and improve the health of Canadians.”
Family doctors and residents in family medicine will be eligible to receive up to $8,000 per year in Canada Student Loan forgiveness to a maximum of $40,000 over five years; nurses and nurse practitioners will be eligible to receive up to $4,000 per year to a maximum of $20,000 over five years.
- with files from John Gleeson.