Two doctors in Rimbey plan to move to another province after COVID-19 crisis clears

Some doctors in rural Alberta are threatening to leave the province when the COVID-19 pandemic is over, blaming the Alberta government for cuts to fees for hospital and clinic visits.

Dr. Cian Hackett, a rural generalist in the town of Rimbey in central Alberta, said he plans to leave when the crisis is over.

“The successive cuts to physician services delivered in small hospitals such as in Rimbey, Sundre and Stettler are absolutely devastating,” Hackett said in a Facebook post Sunday.

Hackett said he had thought he would work in Rimbey for 30 more years but has changed his mind.

“If you live in another province and know of a great rural practice opportunity, I would love to hear from you,” he wrote.

Hackett, one of six doctors in the town of 2,100 people, works at a clinic and the emergency room at the Rimbey Hospital and Care Centre.

Physicians feeling ‘disrespect,’ doctor says

In an interview with CBC News Monday, he said the last straw came last week when government cuts to after-hours hospital fees came into effect Apr. 1.

In a typical 24-hour shift in the emergency room, Hackett said, he would see 20 to 30 patients. He said he worked about six of those shifts every month.

Until March 31, he said, he was paid $38.03 for each patient he saw. That fee has now been reduced to $31.

“I think physicians across the province are feeling that disrespect,” he said. “I think rural physicians are feeling it even more.”

Hackett noted that the government has overwhelming support among rural Albertans.

“We’re not seeing a respect for the physicians who work for those patients, and to be honest, I’m not seeing respect for the constituents who voted for these representatives.”

Hackett said the government also cut medical liability reimbursement in half.

Medical liability insurance is required of all physicians, and provides malpractice insurance in case they get sued.

According to the 2020 fee schedule, Hackett said, coverage for a family physician to work in a clinic and an emergency room cost $3,420 a year. Adding  obstetrics coverage increased the annual fee to $8,172. In the past, doctors were reimbursed for all but $1,000 of those fees.

“The slash to that no longer makes it worth it for us to practice obstetrics,” he said. “I’d actually be close to losing money each year if I continue that part of my work.”

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