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March President’s Message – Into the Unknown

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To say we are in a time of change and uncertainty would be an understatement. From the unpredictable political climate of Alberta to the formal declaration of a new worldwide pandemic, there is a constellation of change that many of us have likely not experienced before.


I have many thoughts about what I wish to highlight with all of you based on our annual Family Medicine Summit. On top of mind is the evolution of COVID-19 to a worldwide pandemic as per a recent WHO declaration. We are in an unprecedented time. Schools and universities have been closed, the Canadian Prime-Minister is in self-isolation, travel restrictions are mounting by the day, and we are seeing hoarding of supplies from supermarkets. As we see the first instances of novel coronavirus confirmed in our province, there is an increasing sense of urgency that this is something we need to be prepared for within our own practices and communities. Dr. Hinshaw presented a COVID-19 update at the Summit and we have collated follow-up questions for her response. Alberta Health Services Public Health has asked the ACFP to support regular updates to family physicians in Alberta regarding the outbreak. As things can change quickly, we strongly encourage you to visit the AHS website for the latest information regarding COVID-19. As always, Alberta Health Services will remain the source of truth and the ACFP will continue to provide updated communications regarding COVID-19 response and protocols. We have forwarded your questions to our contacts at AHS and expect them to contact you directly with a response.

Back at the Table

Not only was the Summit an opportunity to reconnect and learn, but the ACFP Board and I saw it as a significant opportunity to engage with our membership. We started the conference with a Member’s Forum on the Future of Family Medicine (here is the summary we shared last week) and on Saturday we were able to hear from the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) directly regarding the negotiations. In light of those discussions, it is positive to know that the government has reinitiated a conversation with the AMA. As we continue to deal with challenging times ahead, I hope the government is truly returning to the table for negotiations in good faith. By all accounts, the AMA had approached negotiations with an intent to protect health care delivery while being responsive to the fiscal challenges faced by the province. The government’s decision to terminate negotiations and the physician services agreement showed a lack of respect for the process and for the profession.

Member Forums and Advocacy

On the back of these intense discussions, we hosted an impromptu member forum with more than 100 of our colleagues from across the province to discuss the challenges we are facing and to conceptualize a strategy forward. With that, there will be more communications in the days and weeks to come including member polls to gain an objective understanding of what proposed changes to Family Medicine funding will do to our ability to deliver high-quality care to Albertans.

We will develop strong messaging outlining the critical importance Family Medicine plays in the health care system to be used with patients, social media, or in conversations you have with local MLAs. Within this eNews is a summary from the PEER team regarding the evidence behind the benefits that Family Physicians bring to the health care system.We will also collate some of the wonderful work many of you are doing and distribute consolidated resources that you can use in your individual and/or community-based advocacy work. While we are aware of a number of these efforts, if there are items you feel would be valuable to include, please e-mail so these can be reviewed and added.

In addition to these efforts, we will continue our behind-the-scenes advocacy efforts with government and stakeholder organizations, including the AMA, to ensure the needs of Family Physicians are being represented.

Into the Unknown

As we enter this pandemic situation, I hope the reopening of negotiations is an acknowledgement from the government that the health and well-being of Albertans is not a political game and will require everyone cooperating in good faith to ensure the health care needs of our province are being met.

As we dive headfirst into these challenges, I will close out with some inspiration from Frozen 2, which teaches us “all one can do is the next right thing.” With that we carry forward doing the best we can as we head “into the unknown.”

Vishal Bhella, MD, CCFP
Alberta College of Family Physicians

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