Alberta dentists, physiotherapists need rules in place before reopening

Albertans itching for a routine dental checkup or eye exam might have to wait a little bit longer than Monday.

Colleges working on guidelines to operate safely

Optometrists are among professionals who could be allowed back to work as early as Monday. However, regulatory colleges must first establish guidelines for safe practice during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Ashley Burke/CBC )

Albertans itching for a routine dental checkup or eye exam might have to wait a little bit longer than Monday.

Although the provincial government  said health professionals could re-open offices as soon as next week, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said many clinics are unlikely to fling their doors open immediately.

Alberta's 30 regulatory colleges, which license and oversee professionals such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers, must prepare guidelines for safe operation during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Over the next several weeks, as these colleges get this information and are able to produce the guidelines for their members, and their members are able to then absorb them and understand how to apply them in their local clinics, you will likely see a sort of staggered opening of different professions, depending on how long this process takes," Hinshaw said Friday.

Many clinics have been shuttered for anything but emergencies since March 27, when Hinshaw ordered them closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Dental services may resume May 14

Alberta Health consulted with all regulatory colleges before Thursday's announcement, spokesman Tom McMillan said.

Still, it took some professionals by surprise.

"This is breaking news to us, as we have had no guidelines yet from the Alberta Dental Association and College," an Edmonton orthodontics clinic posted on Facebook Friday.

In a Friday statement, dental college CEO Dr. Randall Croutze said the regulator was still working on guidelines. As of Monday, Alberta dentists can see patients for emergency and urgent care only, he said.

If the government's relaunch strategy loosens business restrictions on May 14 as planned, dentists can begin to see non-urgent patients, he said.

Physiotherapy Alberta did post pandemic guidelines on Friday.

That college recommends physiotherapists only treat patients in person when the benefits outweigh the risk of potential exposure to disease. They say continuing consultations online, where possible, is a good idea.

Clinics should consider screening staff and patients in advance and in person for COVID-19 symptoms, and politely isolate and reschedule any patients who are sick.

Clinics should limit the number of people inside at once, clean and disinfect surfaces between each patient and avoid exchanging papers, they say. Therapists should wear masks, they say.

Registrar and executive director Jody Prohar said in a Friday email any clinics should only see patients in person if they can follow the measures outlined.

"We recognize access to personal protective equipment may be a barrier to re-opening, however, this cannot alter the direction developed for the safety of patients and physiotherapists," she said.

The Alberta College of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists hopes to have its guidelines ready within a couple of days, registrar Michael Neth said Friday.

How soon professionals can see patients will depend on college instructions and each practitioner's access to protective equipment such as masks, he said.

Hinshaw said Alberta Health will be sending more information to the colleges soon on how they can reduce risks during the pandemic.