Alberta Politics
Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro (Photo: Chris Schwarz, Government of Alberta).

AHS to Pincher Creek docs: We made a mistake, we gave it to you, now we won’t take it back … and you can’t quit!

Posted on July 31, 2020, 3:05 am
7 mins

Physicians in Pincher Creek who gave three months’ notice they were withdrawing from hospital service in response to Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s War on Doctors were told they had to show up for August on-call duty anyway in letters Tuesday from a top official of Alberta Health Services’ South Zone.

The reason: AHS couldn’t find replacements, so the health authority just decided to make them work anyway.

Pincher Creek Mayor Don Anderberg (Photo: Pincher Creek Voice).

If they didn’t show up, Interim South Zone Medical Director Michael Auld’s letter warned, they would be reported to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta for “unprofessional conduct.”

You really can’t make this stuff up. At least, if you tried, no one would believe you.

However, NDP Heath Critic David Shepherd yesterday published the letter sent by Dr. Auld to one of the nine physicians in the Pincher Creek Associate Clinic, so you don’t have to take some blogger’s word for it.

“Attached is the on-call schedule for August 2020,” Dr. Auld’s letter told Dr. Samantha Myhr. “Physicians in your call group have been assigned call for all unfilled days in August. … Failure to show up on the scheduled day(s) will result in a Part 6 Investigation under the AHS Medical Staff Bylaws and a report to the CPSA for unprofessional conduct.”

Despite repeated promises by Mr. Shandro and United Conservative Party press secretaries and “issues managers” that replacements would be easy to find, by the time the clock was running out this week on the docs’ 90-day notice period, AHS had only found enough locum replacements to cover two weeks of shifts in the hospital in the southwestern Alberta town.

“In other words,” Mr. Shepherd wrote in a twitter commentary accompanying his release of the letter, Mr. Shandro and AHS “utterly failed to fill the gap.”

AHS “will not be able to do surgeries or obstetrics,” Mr. Shepherd continued. “They may not be able to cover the ER 24 hours. This is a far cry from Minister Shandro stating that he would just move physicians into communities.”

NDP Health Critic David Shepherd (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Still, even by the standards of Jason Kenney’s Alberta, just ordering people to do work they’ve already properly quit is pretty outrageous.

Indeed, it’s the most perfect example I have ever encountered of what was described to me more than 40 years ago by a wise old civil servant as the First Law of Bureaucracy. It goes like this: “We’ve made a mistake. We’ve given it to you. We won’t take it back. Now it’s your mistake!”

Earlier yesterday, Pincher Creek Mayor Don Anderberg said in a Facebook video that “town council feels that the health minister, Alberta Health and to an extent Alberta Health Services have put our community in a position that come August first may well trigger a public health emergency.”

What’s happening in the town of 3,600, he continued, “is a far cry from Minister Shandro stating on the 6 o’clock news that he would just move physicians into communities where doctors want to leave. We know how hard it is to get doctors to our communities and keep them there.”

“The minister and AHS have made these statements and many more that they quite clearly cannot deliver on and our health system in Pincher Creek will be in a world of hurt from Saturday,” Mayor Anderberg said.

Pincher Creek physician Samantha Myhr (Photo: Prairie Post).

Assailing Mr. Shandro, the health ministry and AHS for their tactics against the Alberta Medical Association, he emphasized that the town council asked the local doctors to extend their notice for another 90 days, and that the nine physicians accepted the request. “We now have a window of opportunity.”

Addressing Mr. Shandro and ministry officials directly, Mayor Anderberg continued, “it may look like you got somebody to blink and cave through your actions, but the truth of the matter is, our local doctors should be applauded for helping to avert an unmitigated disaster in health care in our community.”

Strong words like these about the UCP by local elected officials in small-town Alberta are extremely unusual. They explain why some UCP rural MLAs are said to be nervous enough to ponder quitting their caucus and sitting as independents — as unlikely as that is to happen just yet.

In their letter to the town’s council, the nine Pincher Creek physicians promised, “we will not stand by and watch AHS and the government fail our community as the pandemic creates an ever greater need for local medical services.”

However, they added, “we remain concerned about the upcoming changes to our local services and the failure by the Government of Alberta and Alberta Health Services to engage in collaborative consultation.”

Noting that their concerns had been treated with disdain, they warned that the UCP and AHS “continue to push their ideological changes despite the measurable harm being caused to communities like ours.”

So Premier Kenney, Mr. Shandro and AHS have another three months to fix this festering problem in the UCP’s electoral heartland.

Since similar fights with local doctors are happening in other rural Alberta communities, it’s quite possible the same situation could arise elsewhere — at least until the courts weigh in with a ruling that indentured servitude is not actually a thing in Canada any more.

As Mayor Anderberg concluded his remarks yesterday, quoting Martin Luther King Jr., “it is always the right time to do what is right.”

18 Comments to: AHS to Pincher Creek docs: We made a mistake, we gave it to you, now we won’t take it back … and you can’t quit!

  1. Bob Raynard

    July 31st, 2020

    This kind of action just made it all the harder for all of rural Alberta to attract new doctors. What a great recruiting slogan: “Come practice in rural Alberta. If you don’t like it, too bad. You will risk jeopardizing your professional standing if you try to leave.”

    Reply
  2. Ron

    July 31st, 2020

    Back to the salt mines, you ingrates!

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      August 1st, 2020

      “Lashings will continue until morale improves …”

      Reply
  3. Thom Pardoe

    July 31st, 2020

    I’m still baffled by the willingness of the core of the UCP’s power (rural backbench MLAs) to not accept this state of affairs. I can remember past governments bending over backwards for them, and those same MLAs being willing to rattle a few swords at their own government.

    Reply
    • mike in Edmonton

      August 1st, 2020

      Well Thom, the Old Tories had time under Don Getty to discover they could back-talk the Leader and get away with it. Nobody after him had the guts to pound them back into a proper state of respect. Ed Stelmach was so worried about a back-bench revolt he caved in to Calgary’s oil guys–and eventually quit in disgust.

      Then Rachel Motley happened. “OmyGawd!!! We LOST!!! How did this HAPPEN?!!!” The fear of losing their appointed place in the Universe, at the feet of the Father (only the Leader sits at his right hand) set the stage for Lord Jason’s ascent to the Throne.

      By the time Jason was voted Saviour of the Right (we’ll ignore those silly sideshow antics of “kamikaze candidates” and broken election rules), the remaining conservative MLA wannabes were desperate for a strong man to lead them out of the Valley of Darkness, a.k.a. the opposition benches. There’s no point sucking up to the rich guys if you can’t rewrite the laws in their favour.

      Result: retread Old Tories who’ve learned to shut up; Reform retreads who’re too dumb to shut up; and rookie Cons who don’t dare to SPEAK up.

      At least not yet.

      Reply
  4. Abs

    July 31st, 2020

    What will happen in three months, and three months after that? What will happen when the same thing happens in other communities? Surely the UCP cannot hold doctors in servitude forever, or until 2023. If every doctor who resigns is hung out to dry with the CPSA, the college itself will become meaningless, which is perhaps the point. Plug it up with malicious complaints, then shut it down when it becomes overwhelmed or does not produce the “right” outcomes.

    We got a sense something like this would happen when Tyler Shandro threatened to report Dr. Heref Oru to the CPSA after learning the fine doc was not properly registered as a physician. It was a Twitter handle, not a real name. Make no mistake: Jason Kenney is directing this drama from the top down. Tyler Shandro is just spewing the peanuts he’s been told to spew, as are the civil servants under him.

    Rural communities gave the UCP their support, and now they’re learning that biting the hand that feeds you is a UCP thing. They will be stuck with it if they give the UCP their support again in 2023, and stuck with it until then. This is the party that believes 55 per cent of the popular vote is licence to do anything it wants, no holds barred.

    Reply
  5. Murphy

    July 31st, 2020

    For thirty-five years, the provincial government functioned a bit like a pimp who also sells heroin. Almost all the capital generated from the export of oil was withheld from the people, who were afforded low-paying, unsafe, long-hour jobs and relentless privatization to funnel even more capital into the coffers of “entrepreneurs”, before it was off-shored to Vanuatu, the Caymans and/or the Channel Islands.
    Rather than the people holding an actual stake in the biz, Alberta’s tar-sands were money laundries for major international criminal organizations, who are now moving on to greener pastures, so to speak.
    Given the total ineptitude of the Used Car Grifter/Yokel junta, this should have presented the ideal opportunity for Alberta’s Liberals. But they were possessed of so little imagination and initiative that they were actually supplanted in 2019 by the New Age Grifter Party led by a trailer park baron.
    And what hope is there in a place where Rachel Notley’s Kinder, Gentler, neoliberals are still viewed as communists by a significant swathe of the electorate. My mother’s doctor told her last week that she simply couldn’t support the NDP socialist agenda. I took a mandatory safety training course in 2016 for my last go-round in the oilfields. The owner of the training business, which existed only because of government regulations related to workplace safety, which predated the NDP’s interregnum, told all of us eager subjects that as soon as we got rid of the Reds, the goldrush would return.
    As the gravity of the Samson option being used by western speculative capital to fend off the inscrutable oriental threat to hegemony becomes apparent to even the most obtuse Canadian rube, the old jargon of Reds, Pinkos, Commies, etc. is back with a vengeance. My grandmother kept a small notice, which originated in some old lady Roman Catholic publication, on her fridge, urging all who read it to “pray for the unknown communist”. It’s needed now more than ever!
    The population of this province, in general, is slightly less sophisticated than that in Utah, and the public sector is about to experience Oklahoma-style economics. Enjoy!

    Reply
  6. Scotty on Denman

    July 31st, 2020

    Pop-gun Kenney n Pea-shooter Shandro come a ridin’ inta taoun.

    Reply
  7. Just Me

    July 31st, 2020

    Nothing conservative about these guys.

    No free market is allowed when it gets in the way of the PR.

    Doctors are the new indentured servants…because Shandro’s claims that doctors fall from the sky was b.s. Of course, the AMA now has mud on their faces for doing Shady’s dirty work for him, when they should know better.

    Social networks are powerful things: wait until word gets around that Alberta is no country for doctors of any age.

    But there’s always those doctors that believe in “demon sperm” and “faith healing”. Trumpster can highly recommend one.

    Reply
    • mike in Edmonton

      August 1st, 2020

      Absolutely right, JM, Kenney is either a Libertarian (“I’m free to do what I want. YOU do what I TELL you.”) or a Corporatist (“Yes, Mr. CEO. Yes, sir. Right away. Thank you, Sir.”)

      Even Ralph Klein, the social climber, wasn’t as abjectly dependent on the big money in Calgary.

      Reply
  8. Guest99

    July 31st, 2020

    I’ve been reading the comments on this blog for years and have always been amazed at the insights and depth of the commentators (definitely a step up from the comments section on the Edmonton Journal). So I have to ask…what do people see as the end game here? A party that seems to be intentionally alienating the big three elements of its voter base (Edmonton, Calgary and Rural) with polices they know will chase voters away must have a motive I’m not seeing. I know oil and gas work…..messing with a rig or pipeline workers overtime isn’t going to fly with that crowd…..nor will endangering their school aged children or health services.

    This smells like a scorched earth approach if I’ve ever seen one…but why? Clearly Kenny has no interest in being here for the next election, but how would burning Alberta to the ground help him with any Federal political interests he harbors? Is it really possible he is just making this stuff up as he goes and has the worst judgement of anyone at the table?

    Reply
    • Mike in Edmonton

      August 2nd, 2020

      Well, Guest99, my best guess is that Lord Jason is trying to turn Alberta (more accurately, “Oilberduh”) into an American right-to-work state. God only knows if he’ll succeed, but it sure seems that Albertans feel they need to be punished for something–so he just might.

      Reply
  9. Sheldon

    July 31st, 2020

    You wrote a story about the AMA doing a poll and a large majority of members expressing a lack of confidence in our Health Minister. Now the AMA President intends to demand a meeting with the Premier. Next the Health Minister threatens to report Doctors who have given notice they will withdraw their services from their local hospital. This is on top of starting this dispute by unilaterally altering the deal with Alberta’s doctors.

    Before Jason Kenny was elected Premier he announced his intention to barrage the province with legislation. He wanted to overwhelm opposition to any one measure by inundating us with a multitude of change. Here are a few of the changes : Corporate tax cuts, eliminating at least 164 parks to save $5 million, buying a share of a pipeline for $1.5 billion and throwing in a $6 billion loan guarantee for a project doomed if the Americans elect Biden in November, cuts to funding for post secondary education, rolls back protections for agricultural workers, reworking the education curriculum with a “Blue” ribbon panel, laid off 26,000 employees during a pandemic, legislated the transfer of teachers pensions to AIMCO control despite the fact AIMCO’s rate of return is lower than the current fund management and so much more. Others could expand this list till it exceeds the length of a short novel.

    I doubt our Health Minister is freelancing. Should Mr Shandro remain Minster of Health it suggests he is playing his role to perfection. If Doctors are unavailable to staff rural hospitals then the UCP can claim they must close those hospitals. This furthers two UCP goals. It reduces Health care costs and it makes the public more receptive to private health care.

    Reply
  10. Dave

    July 31st, 2020

    Thanks in part to the mayor of Pincher Creek, Mr. Shandro and the UCP may have a 90 day reprieve or so before the crap really hits the fan. Now, some might use this time usefully to reflect and substantially revise their approach, but Mr. Shandro the UCP do not seem much for that. So far it seems full steam ahead head long towards the abyss with no regrets expressed.

    Politicians have shall we say, more that a little bit of a credibility problem, so I see problems in the UCP trying to win what is a battle for public support against physicians. I also see problems in them trying to prevent doctors from leaving at all. Perhaps they will be able to reduce mass resignations with their threats (or not), but doctors also leave for a variety of other reasons that will be harder for the UCP to stop. For instance, for those that are retiring, this type of threat is less effective. Also, doctors sometimes have health issues, accidents happen that incapacitate them for shorter or longer terms and of course there may also be pressing family reasons to relocate outside of Alberta. The UCP may succeed in reducing the flood of doctors out of Alberta, but I doubt they can stop it entirely. They have however, succeeded in making Alberta much, much less enticing for any new doctors thinking of practicing here.

    It may be a slower drip rather than a flood to deal with, but either way this problem will be most acutely felt in the places that have the hardest time attracting replacements – smaller rural communities. Interestingly those places are the core and bedrock of UCP support. It is almost as if the UCP is perhaps unwittingly attacking their own base in this situation. The UCP leadership has already shown on this issue that they really are not too bright so perhaps the best hope for Alberta is that they destroy themselves on this issue. It may happen.

    Reply
  11. Donna

    July 31st, 2020

    And that is the problem, there is NOTHING “right” about this government! Alberta needs recall legislation. Sitting elected rural UCP MLA’s really need to check their conscious before voting for this Undoing Canadian Progress crap! Kenney is a master strategist and actor the plays in the media theatre his “ideas”.

    Reply
  12. ROB

    August 2nd, 2020

    Ironically, Alberta’s new family doctors are already being trained with this new mentality in mind. The U of Calgary Family Medicine Residency has perfected the art of weaponizing professionalism against its residents over the past few years, and it’s not shocking anymore for us new graduates to see AHS and our provincial government do the same. Thanks to our physician predecessors who allowed the bar of respect and efficacy to be lowered for all of us…

    Reply
  13. Honest Woman

    August 2nd, 2020

    Rural albertans overwhelmingly voted for UCP. Let the doctors leave and those idiots who vote against their own interest die.

    Reply
  14. August 19th, 2020

    Used to live in Alberta and am always so curious to check in on my old hometown. Politics aside, this was an interesting read. Makes me happy to check back in, even in such ridiculous times.

    Reply

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