Posted on Feb 11, 2021


EDMONTON - During a year when Alberta doctors have put themselves and their families at risk, worked to exhaustion and beyond, and made hundreds of phone calls to loved ones of deceased patients, they have also been forced to bargain with Health Minister Tyler Shandro to retain their mental health supports.

The Physician and Family Support Program was placed in jeopardy when Shandro tore up the province’s contract with doctors in February of 2020. The program is run by the Alberta Medical Association but funded by $3.8 million annually from the Government of Alberta, and Shandro indicated the program would only be funded for another year pending a review. That year expires at the end of March.

“It’s cruel and cynical for Tyler Shandro to use mental health support as a bargaining chip in his war on doctors, even while those heroes are at the bedside caring for Albertans through a deadly pandemic,” said David Shepherd, NDP Critic for Health. “Tyler Shandro should commit today to fully funding this program and keeping it within the AMA.”

“The Physician and Family Support Program was my lifeline,” said Dr. Sue Reid, an Edmonton-area anesthesiologist. “An increasingly toxic work environment threatened to destroy my mental health, my marriage and my career in anesthesia. My PFSP intake physician compassionately assessed my situation and reassured me. I was matched to an experienced, compatible therapist who I continued seeing for two years. Without her support, I have no doubt that I would have abandoned medicine.

“We all know that professionally sourced PPE is essential to protect the physical health of all health care professionals and their patients. I believe we should consider psychological PPE to be equally essential to protect the mental health and well-being of physicians, thereby protecting the health and safety of our patients,” Reid said.

Doctors have expressed concern that Shandro may move the program into AHS or the College of Physicians and Surgeons. This would discourage physicians from seeking help if they worried that information about personal struggles might find its way to their employer or professional regulator.

“At the end of 2020, Premier Kenney suggested he wanted to turn down the rhetoric with Alberta doctors,” Shepherd said. “He can do that today by directing Tyler Shandro to fully fund this program, keep it within the AMA, and protect the mental health of the Albertans who are working so hard to keep us all safe.”