Alberta health critic casts doubt on claim 141 communities removed from RRNP by mistake
CALGARY -- Alberta's Official Opposition health critic is casting doubt on the claim made by Alberta Health on Sunday that the removal of 141 communities from the Rural Remote Northern Program (RRNP) was an "oversight."
Earlier on Sunday, NDP health critic David Shepherd noted that nearly one quarter of the communities listed on the RRNP were quietly removed Friday — the same day Health Minister Tyler Shandro walked back changes made to how rural doctors are paid for services.
Shepherd said at the time he wondered whether the physicians in those communities were no longer considered rural physicians and would not be included in the changes.
Shandro's press secretary Steve Buick said Sunday the 141 communities are the least isolated ones, according to the formula, and the variable fee premium rate in these communities is 0% — meaning : doctors who work, but don't live there, would receive no payment.
"The RRNP list does not apply to any other program; the list has no meaning outside the program," Buick said.
Shandro later tweeted they would not be removing any communities from the RRNP program, and Alberta Health followed with a tweet saying "Med Bulletin 227 was published with incorrect information and did not list 141 communities."
"Yesterday we saw Health Minister Tyler Shandro try to explain away his mistakes by throwing public servants who work for him under the bus, but his explanation doesn't add up," Shepherd said in a media conference Monday.
Shepherd pointed out that an Alberta Health bulletin published in February told doctors changes were coming to the RRNP and the eligible community list would be revised.
The list in question appeared to remove any community that had an isolation score of 5.1 and below.
"He's claiming that a list of rural communities that had been unchanged for years was cut by almost a quarter according to a very specific criteria that his office knew about in detail — by mistake," Shepherd said.
Shepherd added that if it was in fact an oversight, the document would have gone through multiple levels of approval without being noticed.
"The minister's explanation is preposterous, and if it is true, then it represents a shocking and unacceptable level of incompetence throughout Alberta Health," he said.
"If there is a need to revise this list ... I welcome him to do so in an open and collaborative fashion in conjunction with the Alberta Medical Association."