A provincial panel has been put in place to review health care delivery in Alberta’s rural communities to ensure resources are being deployed efficiently and effectively.

Premier Jim Prentice made the announcement in Olds on Tuesday and was joined by Health Minister Stephen Mandel.

“I also learned that many rural communities face daunting challenges particularly when it comes to health care. Challenges such as recruiting and retaining health care professionals, front-line workers, having to travel long distances as well for care for our citizens and the need to coordinate services and facilities amongst neighbouring communities,” said Prentice.

“Our government knows how important health care is in rural communities,” said Minister Mandel. “We need to develop a patient focused, efficient, effective and sustainable health care delivery system. My mandate also includes ensuring local input to health care decision making no matter what part of Alberta you live in.”

The review panel will be led by MLA Richard Starke and will include experts on rural health care delivery.

The panel will focus its attention on rural communities in three categories:

  1. Those with a population of 1,250 people and less
  2. Those with a population between 1,250 and 2,500
  3. Those with a population of more than 2,500

“This is not going to be a lengthy process,” said Prentice. “The rural panel will review existing services and facilities in rural Alberta. It will identify the sweet spot of maximum impact that combines accessibility of facilities, medical and support staff availability and service offerings.”

“I don’t think this is rocket science, when you get the bed blockers into facilities they should be, open up beds and those beds should be designated for emergency patients so we can help clear out the emergency rooms so people aren’t sitting in the hallways, so that’s what we’re going to try and do. We’ll do it very quickly and we’ve been given our marching order to ensure its done in the next few weeks,” said Mandel.

The review panel will focus on:

  • Timely access to appropriate health care
  • Evaluation of specialist services in rural areas
  • Optimizing the use of existing rural health facilities, ensuring patient safety and quality services
  • Ensuring communities are engaged in health service planning and policy development
  • Recruitment and retention of health personnel in rural areas, consistent with appropriate levels of care
  • The link between rural economic development and the provision of health services within communities.

“We need to see action to improve the way that rural Albertans are served by our health care service. I heard this loud and clear in every community that I travelled to over the course of the summer,” said the premier. “This government will work hard in the coming months to make real improvements to health care delivery for rural Albertans.”

The panel will report its findings back to the Minister of Health within 90 days.