Patricia Johnston, chair of the Yellowhead East Health Advisory Council shared feedback from residents with Alberta Health Services at the latest meeting at the Lloydminster Hospital on June 20. GEOFF LEE LLS PHOTO
We have your back on healthcare.
That’s what the Yellowhead East Health Advisory Council (HAC) told local and area residents during its latest meeting at the Lloydminster Hospital on June 20.
“Within the last year to 18 months, I feel like AHS is recognizing the value of the Alberta Health councils,” said Pat Johnston, chair of the Yellowhead HAC.
“They are actually involving us at the get-go instead of waiting until they have made a decision then telling us ‘here it is we would like you to share this with your population.’ “
She said members from the 12 HACs in Alberta are on various committees and actually have a seated role on them.
“We feel like we’re starting now to be a unified voice for the community,” said Johnston.
The Lloydminster meeting was an opportunity for the public to engage council members and share their views about local healthcare issues that are uploaded to Alberta Health Services.
“We take all our questions, concerns and comments back to our leadership at AHS,” said Maya Atallah Health Advisory Coordinator for AHS, who works with three HACs.
She said AHS CAO Verna Yiu meets council chairs several times a year to listen to what the communities’ concerns are with AHS.
She said the meetings are very important and they are always open to the public.
The event included a Telehealth presentation on cannabis legislation by Dr. Ifeoma Achebe, an AHS medical officer of health for community medicine and a report on the work of the Provincial Advisory Council on Cancer from Lloydminster member Lorelee Marin.
Marin took the opportunity to update the Yellowhead HAC on the work her council on cancer is doing to improve cancer care for all Albertans.
“Right now, we are working on an accelerated cancer diagnosis project,” said Marin.
“We’ve been doing work on breast health initiatives creating clinical care pathways to improve cancer supports, advocating for things like the FIT test (fecal immunochemical) to improve testing for colorectal cancer screening.”
This was the first time she had spoken to the Yellowhead HAC about the cancer projects with the hope both groups can work together to support rural Albertans to improve access to cancer services.
The goal of health advisory councils is to provide feedback to AHS on communities’ programs and priorities with their new-found empowerment.
Johnston said the Yellowhead HAC was actively involved in the Central Zone Health Plan for example, which is going to be presented to the public shortly.
“Right from the day the plan was being developed, we had health council members present at every meeting with the ability to give input and insight from the area,” she said.
“We have also developed work plans and we’re working hard to keep our focus within our council groups on those work plans, getting information and having presentations related to what we as a council decided are challenging issues for the Yellowhead East HAC.”
The top 2018 priorities that the Yellowhead HAC identified and put forward to the AHS board are mental health, transportation, physician shortages and wait times.
Mental health is also a priority of the David Thompson HAC, so both councils are partnering to deliver a Telehealth presentation on the services available in the central zone on Sept. 11.
Johnston said transportation is an issue in the rural communities served by the HAC for getting to and from medical appointments and services.
“Many rural communities don’t have any kind of taxi or transit services to access specialist services and appointments and the EMS services,” she said.
“We recognize there is an urgent need for non-emergency transport.”
Johnston said physician shortages and wait times to see a doctor are a growing concern.
“There are communities within the Yellowhead that don’t have enough physicians and people are having to travel 50 to 100 kilometres to a general practitioner,” she said.
Johnston explained the issue of wait times also refers to placements for seniors and disabled people.
She said there are also wait times for specialized surgeries and imaging and diagnostics and wait times to see specialists who are not AHS employees.
“We are hoping to reach out to the Alberta Medical Association and College of Physicians and Surgeons to try to bring some light on that,” she said.