Since Alberta Health Services announced that Airdrie's Urgent Care Centre would be closing intermittently on the weekends for the next two months, both the municipal levels of government and provincial politicians have been asked what can be done to rectify the situation.

On Tuesday, UCP candidate Rebecca Schulz (MLA Calgary-Shaw) was in Airdrie and fielded questions about the closure and what she sees as a path forward.

"We do have to work on training more doctors and nurses and frontline staff and making it quicker and easier for students to get into those spaces. We want to recognize foreign credentials and make sure that we have the practicum seats for those that are trained," she said. "We've got to work towards reducing some of the barriers for family physicians to get into family practice in the first place. Whether that's looking at primary care models and having a number of diverse professionals in one place, or incentivizing work outside of the typical work hours."

However, the NDP's health critic health David Shepherd (MLA Edmonton-City Centre) told Discover Airdrie that while the physician shortage may be a provincial-wide issue, global even, he believes that many doctors felt targeted by the UCP government in recent years.

"We've had family doctors that have chosen to leave Airdrie or that have retired and have not been replaced because it's very difficult to recruit in an environment [where] we have a government that has attacked doctors and torn up their agreement," Shepherd said. "Couple that with the pressure from the pandemic, we have even fewer doctors available."

Shepherd underlined that it was under the NDP government that saw the Airdrie Urgent Care Centre expanded to 24-hour service. Shepherd, however, did point out, similar to his UCP peer, that removing barriers for foreign-trained doctors may be crucial to addressing the physician shortage.

"We recognize that we have doctors come in from outside and we need to work collaboratively with groups like the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons to work on how we can make sure those doctors are able to get into Alberta and get properly credentialed and be ready to go out and help Albertans as quickly as possible."

He also said that a hospital in Airdrie has to be looked at, following a case study.

"For example, that was the first step towards the expansion at the Red Deer Hospital. Our government committed the funding, those dollars went through. The UCP government picked up on that momentum, they finished the business case, and now they've committed the funding to expand the regional hospitals," Shepherd said. "Same thing [should be done here]. We would need to sit down and assess where the areas of most need are, what services need to be there on the ground, and how we can best meet that."

On the municipal front, Airdrie Mayor Peter Brown said he has tried coordinating a meeting with Health Minister Copping, though nothing has yet been set. Like his fellow council members, he is gravely concerned and frustrated. 

"I know we're significantly lacking in health care services within our community and what we have currently is not adequate for a city of 80,000. It's just hard to imagine; everybody wants a hospital here and yet we don't have the health professionals or doctors available to run a very small, urgent care center."

Mayor Brown said he is hopeful there will also be clarification from either AHS or the province as to why Urgent Care is shut down during weekends in the evening hours, especially in the summer.

"Having a significant health event without support in a very short distance drive, where you have access to health professionals, could mean life or death. We don't want to have that happen and hopefully, it will not. However, the leadership at AHS has to recognize that Airdrie can't be overlooked," he said. 

The mayor took pains to stress that the frustration felt by both members of the city council, himself, and residents are not directed at healthcare staff.

"Our community just are very thankful for the work that our health professionals do every day and in no way as our frustration with these closures have anything to do with the work that they're doing." 

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