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New Health Professionals Attraction and Retention Committee in Olds starts work

A new committee to attract and retain health-care workers in Olds met for the first time May 25 in town council chambers

OLDS — A new committee to attract and retain health-care workers in Olds met for the first time May 25 in town council chambers.  

Its official name is the Olds Health Professionals Attraction and Retention Committee. 

Acting committee chair Erin Lowe says the May 25 meeting was just a chance for members of the new committee to get to know each other. 

It was also a chance to get up to speed from members of the outgoing committee that helped get this new one off the ground, learn what that committee found out about the issue over the past year and say goodbye to them as they step aside so the new committee can get to work. 

Lowe, a registered nurse and nursing instructor at Red Deer Polytechnic, used to be a nurse in Olds. She still lives in the community and has done so for about 10 years. 

Lowe ran into Alicia Fox of the Rural Health Professions Action Plan (RhPAP) about a year-and-a-half ago. They both saw the need for a new health-care professionals attraction/retention committee here. 

Members of the town’s Community Lifestyles Committee also began pressing Town of Olds chief administrative officer Brent Williams about a year ago, not long after he started working in Olds. 

There used to be a physician attraction/retention committee in Olds but it was disbanded several years ago. 

“I’ve seen a huge need for health care professionals in our community, being a nurse in Olds,” Lowe said during an interview with the Albertan. 

“I bring students from Red Deer here to the Olds hospital every year for their clinical rotations and really see a need to improve our health care here.” 

Lowe said the next step for the new committee is to “find a backbone for our organization, so what umbrella we’re going to fit under and figure out then as a committee what our priorities are, based on the conversation we had in the fall with our community members.” 

Currently, there’s a waiting list of about 2,600 Olds and area residents who have no regular doctor, according to Williams.   

However, Alberta Health Services (AHS) officials in central Alberta note that Olds has 17 doctors. They have said that’s plenty for the 12,000-resident “catchment area” (the town and surrounding area), as that works out to 740 patients per doctor.   

Williams says that ignores the fact that 15 of those 17 doctors are often busy at the Olds Hospital and Care Centre and thus have little time to see patients. 

Lowe was asked if the committee will be addressing the discrepancy between the AHS Central view and the shortage as Williams sees it. 

That’s for the Town of Olds to deal with, she said. 

“A lot of the advocacy stuff is going to be left to the town because that’s what they’re working on,” she said. “We’re going to be working together with them from a different perspective.” 

Lowe conceded it might be tough to get AHS Central officials to see things the town’s way. 

"I don’t know if that will happen,” she said. “It's a bigger system that we’re looking at, right? So to try and fix that from that end is really difficult. 

“We’re trying to figure out what we can do from our perspective to try to help with that or change it.” 

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