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Healthcare divide between Alberta, Sask. persists post-pandemic: Doctor


Easier access to certain types of medical care has become more difficult for some residents in southwestern Saskatchewan, according to a Swift Current doctor.

"Particularly in the southwest we have a lot of folks that live very close to the Alberta border, and quite honestly it's a much shorter drive to a larger centre just on the other side of the Alberta border than it is to a lot of the bigger cities here in Saskatchewan,” said Dr. Francisco Garcia, a urologist based in Swift Current. “So a lot of folks did seek some of their care, specialty care or otherwise, in those communities.”

“It was back and forth, seamless, and we also had referrals that were coming from that side of the border to us, in Swift Current, that we were managing and dealing with and there was really no issues with that,” Garcia added.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Garcia said provinces put up “invisible borders” in healthcare. Many have since come down, but Garcia said a divide persists between Saskatchewan and Alberta.

For example, certain patients in communities like Maple Creek now have to make a much longer drive to Regina or other centres compared to those available in nearby Alberta.

“There were a lot of patients in our area that did seek their specialty care, surgeries and other procedures not far from their home, again 30 to 40 minutes away,” Garcia said. “Now many of them are on new waitlists that they have to restart their entire clinical experience and their clinical relationships.”

According to Garcia, the change has put added pressure on specialists like himself in Swift Current, for those who are able to get the needed care locally.

“We’re still getting the same volume and even increasing volumes of consult requests coming from the Alberta side, so it’s a very unidirectional situation,” Garcia told CTV News.

Garcia raised the issue with Health Minister Everett Hindley during a question and answer session hosted by the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) on Friday, one of several doctors to bring their concerns forward.

Given that Hindley is also the MLA for Swift Current in addition to his ministerial role, the two have spoken about the topic before, but Garcia wanted to raise it at the meeting to keep it top-of-mind.

“I've been trying to work through this and find a pathway through this, but it sounds like there's still cases where patients in Saskatchewan who had been previously perhaps doctoring for whatever it happens to be in Alberta aren't being allowed to do that, despite the fact that they were able to do that pre-pandemic,” Hindley said.

“We’ll follow up, talk to our counterparts in Alberta, find out why this is still and if there’s a pathway through it to get back to the way it used to be.”

Hindley said he’s working on finalizing a possible meeting with Alberta’s health minister, to talk further about other concerns that exist not only in Swift Current and area, but in a fully cross-border community further north: Lloydminster.

“Things can get complicated when it comes to jurisdiction and who’s responsible for what,” Hindley said.

In a statement to CTV News, the Alberta Ministry of Health said while it participates in various agreements that allow for emergency physician or hospital care, it maintains that “Alberta's health system is intended for and designed to provide Albertans with the best possible care here at home.”

Other discussion topics with the ministers included supports for the province’s most vulnerable patients, recruitment efforts, and how to keep doctors in the province, an area the SMA hopes will see improvement after doctors signed a new deal earlier this year.

“We have a small healthcare workforce, and quite a small physician workforce, but a very, very dedicated physician workforce,” said outgoing SMA President Dr. Annette Epp. “I think that this has been a longstanding concern in Saskatchewan, ever since I’ve been in medicine, but I think the new contract is addressing some of the difficult points in some really creative ways.”

The SMA will continue to hold sessions Saturday. Top Stories

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