For the past several years since the COVID-19 pandemic, many families in Lethbridge have found themselves left with no family physician with it being estimated that as many as 40,000 community members are currently without a doctor.
Recently Alberta Health Service (AHS) announced the successful recruitment of 23 family physicians to set up practice in Lethbridge.
Friends of Medicare Lethbridge chapter chair Bev Muendel-Atherstone says even with the new 23 doctors in Lethbridge the numbers are not the only important thing.
“It doesn't really matter the number of doctors that come to Lethbridge. What matters is whether people in Lethbridge are able to find a family doctor. Sometimes these doctors just kind of disappear. We need to know how many doctors are actually going to be taking patients. And whether the patients will be able to find a doctor when these doctors start practicing,” said Muendel-Atherstone.
Muendel-Atherstone added that nevertheless it is good the city did get much-needed doctors.
“It's great that Lethbridge is able to get those much-needed doctors in here.”
By Oct. 29, 22 out of the 23 doctors were practicing with the last doctor starting in March of 2024.
Muendel-Atherstone said Lethbridge is lacking in specific doctors such as those for maternity care where there is a great need here.
“We're missing some very specific doctors. We're missing maternity care, OBGYN and that's one of the key doctors that we need because we have women who are pregnant who are missing out on their pre prenatal, their birthing procedure, and their postnatal care. And there's no one available right now in this area to take new patients.”
Lethbridge currently has only one practising OBGYN doctor, forcing pregnant women here to travel outside of the city to find maternity care.
“Just numbers, as I said, doesn't solve it. What we need is very specific people. And I know that the city is very concerned, and the mayor has been concerned. He's concerned for the well-being of people living in this area,” voiced Muendel-Atherstone.
Muendel-Atherstone added the lack of doctors in Lethbridge has overwhelmed e hospital staff, making fewer beds available for patients.
“People go to the hospital to emergency because they can't get in to see a doctor, they don't have a primary care giver doctor, and then they can't get in for hours or we find out that the hospital itself has no more beds available. We're in a dire situation.”
Muendel-Atherstone said she believes the amenities available here are not the issue rather the lack of doctors is a provincial challenge which needs the creation of a stable relationship between the province and physicians.
“The city’s amenities will not be enough to overcome the provincial problems. The province has been very unaccepting of doctors in the past few years. And the main thing was that the province wouldn't sign a contract with the doctors.
“And this chased many doctors out of Alberta, and it's made doctors leery of coming to Alberta. So we need to have not just the city that says we've got good amenities, but we need to have a stable relationship between the province and the medical field,” said Muendel-Atherstone.
Muendel-Atherstone emphasized the need for the province to create a positive relationship with doctors and keep them in the province.
“The whole thing right now is really quite a bottleneck so I certainly am hopeful that we would get the kinds of medical professionals that we need and I hope that Alberta would be able to create a climate of acceptance and a positive climate so that we're able to keep doctors who come to the province and we don't lose them to other more accepting provinces.”
Steffanie Costigan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald