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To all my colleagues from across the province, I want to start by extending my gratitude to all of you. Thank you for continuing the work that you do given the constraints and challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created. There is continued evolution in terms of how we deliver care to our patients in these times and what type of clinical needs we may be called on to provide.
Every day seems like it brings new learning and changes in protocol where it comes to dealing with COVID-19. From criteria for testing, to care protocols in facilities, to public recommendations for mitigating spread, there are ongoing changes and updates. While ACFP and other organizations continue to provide updates as we learn of them, I remind everyone to that Alberta Health Services remains the ‘source of truth’ for the most updated information and guidance.
In the midst of the pandemic, there are ongoing challenges for the profession. Billing changes have come into effect and I have heard of the significant impact that these changes have for many of our colleagues around the practice in their ability to delivery care in ways they and their patients have come to expect. We have had an opportunity to join the Family Medicine Task Force along with the Alberta Medical Association Sections of Family Medicine and Rural Medicine as well as PCN Executive Leadership to strategize how to best support family physicians going forward.
Advocacy efforts with government continue for each of these groups with focus on the needs of the profession and the impact of changes. At ACFP, we have sent communication to both the Premier and Minister of Health relating to impact of changes, to advocate for the need to support primary care in a time of societal need, and have meaningful collaborative conversation about fiscal considerations and health care system change once the pandemic is over. We have had a petition signed by over 9,000 (and counting) individuals including physicians and members of the public in support of our messaging. We sent a subsequent letter to stakeholder organizations and all Members of the Legislative Assembly (including the Premier and Minister of Health) related to the key requirements of primary care to ensure viability during the pandemic. This included, the ability to provide care by in person or virtual means with fair compensation mechanisms, system support for care delivery, and the need for PPE access and distribution to primary care providers.
We polled our members to determine needs for education related to COVID-19 as well as to better understand the potential impact the current environment could have on your practices, and we are working to fill the gaps you identified. In response to your needs assessment, we quickly offered two virtual keynotes with Dr. Jody Carrington, taking a humorous and practical look at our role in the pandemic and how to support our own well-being in challenging times.
In addition to the work of the formal physician organizations in Alberta and Canada to work within their mandates to advocate for family physicians, there are also a number of grassroots movements that have been working hard to build local and provincial public awareness of the impact of COVID, to prepare for the COVID response, and respond to the changes and cuts that government is pushing through at this time. The ACFP Board and Staff, AMA Staff and Sections of Family Medicine and Rural Medicine and physician leaders across the province have been connecting with these grassroots movements to show support. We all feel the struggle that comes with trying to work with an entity that does not hear, understand, or want to work with us. We all want the same things and we are stronger together. Let’s continue to work and advocate together to ensure the government realizes we cannot be divided.
Concurrently, in conversations with the Family Medicine Task Force, there is an online public health education campaign spearheaded by the Alberta Medical Association to promote the role and value of family medicine in these challenging times. The campaign is called “Share the Care”/ #StayHealthyAB and a full list of resources to get involved in the campaign can be found here – http://stayhealthyAB.ca.
As we face challenge, communities around the world are rallying in the recognition of work that health care providers are contributing. I hope we can all find support not only from our families and colleagues but from our communities as well. In the background, the ACFP will continue to provide support for all of the work you continue to do with ongoing educational resources and advocacy. We stand united against challenge and in due time we will overcome it as well. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “strength does not come from physical capacity, it comes from indomitable will”. With that, I hope we can all remain strong, remain safe and carry forward – together.
Vishal Bhella, MD, CCFP
Alberta College of Family Physicians