10 Lac La Biche doctors resigning from serving hospital over government funding changes
'We are hereby resigning our hospital privileges effective July 31, 2020'
Ten doctors have resigned from serving the hospital in Lac La Biche over recent government funding changes, according to a letter sent to the media Thursday night.
The doctors said changes to their Schedule of Medical Benefit (SOMB) Claim fees have forced them to restructure their medical practice "to cope with the loss of income."
"As a result, we will not continue to support the William J. Cadzow Health Centre for ER and obstetrical coverage after July 31, 2020," reads the letter.
"We are hereby resigning our hospital privileges effective July 31, 2020."
The letter, dated April 15 and forwarded to media by the Alberta NDP, was signed by the following 10 physicians at the Associated Medical Clinic:
Dr. Richard Birkill
Dr. Handre DeRidder
Dr. Coenraad Claassens
Dr. Laurette Laubscher
Dr. Cornelius Nortje
Dr. Barend Herbst
Dr. Raylene Lategan
Dr. Feroz Parker
Dr. Tracy-Lee Lindenberg
Dr. Eugene Marais
The physicians could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.
Steve Buick, press secretary for Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro, said the province will work with Alberta Health Services to replace the doctors.
"If these physicians choose to voluntarily give up their privileges in a way that would reduce access to care, we will work with AHS to replace them and ensure access is maintained," he said in an emailed statement Thursday evening.
"We will also begin exploring longer-term solutions to augment and stabilize physician services in Lac La Biche and any other community as required."
Buick noted that the government is maintaining payments to physicians at $5.4 billion this year, the highest level ever.
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The SOMB, referenced in the doctors' letter, lists all the health services that physicians are able to bill for their services and the rules that govern billing, according to the Alberta Medical Association's website.
"This is devastating news for the people of Lac La Biche," David Shepherd, the NDP Opposition health critic, said in a news release.
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The province's restructuring of doctor pay and other changes to the health-care system went ahead on April 1.
Alberta ended its long-standing master agreement with physicians in February.
Earlier this month, the Alberta Medical Association filed a lawsuit against the province over how the government pushed through changes in the way doctors can bill for their services.
The lawsuit seeks $5 million in general damages for what it says was a breach of physicians' rights and freedoms, and another $250 million in monetary losses for doctors due to the alleged breach of contract.
For weeks, doctors have said the changes would force hundreds of clinics across the province, particularly in rural areas, to reduce staff or close their doors.
Lac La Biche is a hamlet of 2,300 people, 210 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.
With files from the Canadian Press