Posted on May 7, 2020


EDMONTON -- Nine doctors in Taber published a blistering opinion piece in their local newspaper yesterday, arguing that “rural health care in this province appeared to be on the verge of collapse” and that UCP Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s botched efforts to halt the crisis he started were “akin to a bank robber returning a portion of the money he has stolen and then calling it a charitable donation to the bank.”

The Taber doctors noted that nine of their colleagues in Pincher Creek decided to proceed with their resignation from their local hospital after Shandro’s disastrous April 24th announcement, in which he attempted to quietly strip 141 Alberta communities of their rural designation. Another 18 doctors in Westlock released a letter after the announcement stating that some of them would also be forced to resign.

“There are dozens, if not hundreds more rural physicians who feel the same way,” wrote the Taber doctors. “What is Mr. Shandro’s plan for all of those communities’ emergency departments? It is challenging enough to recruit one rural family physician, just ask a community like Milk River.”

Doctors in Stettler, Sundre, Rocky Mountain House, Rimbey, Canmore, Three Hills, Bragg Creek, Drayton Valley, Cold Lake and Lacombe have also announced plans to leave their local hospital, close their practice, or leave Alberta altogether.

Meanwhile, one rural UCP MLA is trying to hang the blame for Shandro’s crisis on the Alberta Medical Association. In an exchange of correspondence later posted to social media, Dave Hanson, MLA for Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul wrote “The minister listened to our, and your concerns to exempt rural doctors from the proposed changes; that would not have happened without your rural MLAs and had nothing to do with the AMA … Personally I think it is shameful that AMA uses rural doctors as nothing more than a tool.”

In response, Dr. Keeve de Villiers wrote “As to your assertion that as a rural doc I have been “used as a tool by the AMA”: the hypocrisy of your stance is nauseating. I would point out that every time you have voted along the party line without considering the impact your choices have on the rural community you represent, that YOU have been used as a tool by the UCP to forward party interests at the expense of those who elected you.”

On Tuesday, all of the AMA section presidents, zone staff association presidents, PCN physician leads and program council co-chairs signed a letter affirming that the AMA remains their exclusive representative in dealings with the government. Association members recently acclaimed a rural doctor, Dr. Vesta Michelle Warren of Sundre, as their president-elect.

“Blaming doctors will not solve the rural healthcare crisis created by Tyler Shandro,” said David Shepherd, NDP Opposition Critic for Health. “The rural UCP MLAs need to tell the government to restore the province’s previous contract on a temporary basis, enter independent arbitration to develop a new contract, and repeal the parts of Bill 21 that allow the government to tear up contracts on a whim.

“And most of all they need to remove Tyler Shandro from his position as health minister.”