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Alberta doctors warn of ‘crisis in family medicine’

A family practice at risk of closing down. Patients being rejected from seeing specialists. A shortage of family doctors. Medical professionals overwhelmed by the workload.

That’s the portrait being painted of Alberta’s health-care system by the province’s family physicians.

As part of an Alberta Medical Association (AMA) social media campaign that began Wednesday at 8 a.m., 24 family doctors are sharing their individual stories – one per hour for 24 hours.

They say the situation is urgent and the province needs to act quickly.

Dr. Fauzia Khaliq Kareemi, a Calgary family doctor with 19 years in practice, says she can’t keep up with financial stressors like increasing rent. Kareemi, who is responsible for 1,500 patients, says she has no coverage when ill or simply wants to take time off.

“If things do not change, I will have to close my practice. And that will be a very sad day,” she said in the AMA’s first video of the day.

Dr. Sarah Bates, also in Calgary, has been teaching resident doctors for the last 12 years. She says financial pressures are leading residents not to practice comprehensive primary care in the community.

“I am incredibly concerned,” she said.

Edmonton’s Dr. Michelle Morros says she’s feeling overwhelmed and can’t provide the proper quality of care as a result of taking on too many patients due to a doctor shortage in Alberta.

“They can’t get in to see me and I’m inundated with medical administrative tasks that I can’t keep up with,” Morros said in her video.

And Calgary’s Dr. David Keegan says underfunding is creating challenges for patients who don’t have a family doctor and sometimes get flat-out rejected from seeing a specialist. Keegan fears many family physicians are planning to leave the province.

“All Albertans should be very concerned about the stability of family and rural medicine in our province,” the AMA said in a news release.

Health minister aware of campaign, concerns

Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said she was aware of the social media campaign and acknowledged there is an “immediate need to address the concerns in primary care” in the province. She pointed to a Memorandum of Understanding signed in October to work on those goals.

“In fact, over the past four months alone we have committed to $200 million in stabilization funding, and $57 million over three years to provide family doctors and nurse practitioners with support to help manage their increasing number of patients,” LaGrange said in a post on X. “This is in addition to the negotiated increase to the AMA contract agreement finalized 15 months ago which is valued at approximately $780 million over four years.”

The health minister says she’s had meetings with the AMA, and joint working tables with the AMA and the department of health.

“We have discussed these matters at length and have reiterated alignment on our shared goals,” LaGrange wrote. “Additionally, I am currently touring our province, listening to health care workers, including physicians and the public, and hearing how we can improve our system to ensure Albertans can get the care they need, when and where they need it.

“I look forward to hearing from even more family doctors as part of this engagement and working together to address these issues.”

AMA president Dr. Paul Parks will address the “crisis in family medicine” at a press conference Thursday at noon.

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