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Alta. nurse practitioner preparing to open Cochrane clinic once funding arrives

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Alberta could see a significant shift in primary health-care delivery with the opening of its first independently owned nurse practitioner (NP) clinic this year.

Karen Parker, a nurse practitioner with over 20 years of clinical experience, is at the forefront of the initiative.

“The Cochrane clinic, which would be our flagship clinic, will be organized around efficiencies in care and access, to improve access for Albertans,” said Parker.

Parker’s research shows that in Cochrane, with a population of just over 35,000, close to half do not have regular access to a primary care specialist. Her clinic could cut that number by close to 60 per cent.

“It will offer seven days a week extended hours of service each day, and would be able to support at least 10,000 Albertans with access to care,” she said.

Parker’s planned clinic has received a warm reception from local officials, including Cochrane councillor Susan Flowers, who underscored the urgent need for more primary care providers in the region.

“We need more health practitioners,” said Flowers.

“We’re fast-growing, our seniors don't have access to doctors a lot of times, and they don't want to drive to the city. So having it local, having it accessible is so important.”

The new clinic will offer a roster of nurse practitioners who can refer patients to specialists, similar to family doctors.

“The only difference that I would suggest there is around the practice model. So, nurse practitioners embrace more of a holistic, comprehensive primary care practice,” said Parker.

“That lends itself extremely well to primary care to be a dedicated primary care provider for Albertans.”

Parker currently works out of a Calgary-based wellness centre where Jimmy Kritikos is one of her patients. He says when he booked his first appointment with an NP he wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I wasn't really familiar with what a nurse practitioner is, and when I looked online, it seemed very similar to a family physician, (she) can take bloodwork, X-rays, ultrasounds, WCB reports,” said Kritikos.

“The only difference I've noticed is that she spends a lot more time, with my experience than I have with a family physician, and never feel rushed. The level of care is unprecedented.”

Parker’s clinic is expected to be a model for the province and perhaps the nation, as it will operate independently, providing government-funded care. That contrasts with NP clinics in Ontario which are owned by the province.

The clinic, to be in Cochrane’s Quarry district, is awaiting the finalization of a new funding model by Alberta Health before commencing renovations. That funding was promised by Alberta Premier Danielle Smith in November but has yet to be realized.

A spokesperson for Alberta Health says a funding announcement is expected later in the week.

Parker says she is hopeful the announcement will allow her to move forward with her plans, but says the funding model needs to support more than just individual NPs.

“So we need to make sure that this is a viable and a clinic-based funding model, not just an individual practitioner funding model.”

If the provincial funding is as she hopes, Parker says her Cochrane clinic could be open later this year.

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