MLA for Kootenay East Tom Shypitka was due to meet with Elk Valley doctors on Wednesday to discuss access issues with Alberta. Pictured is Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. Wikipedia photo

Ministry breaks silence on Alberta healthcare access issues

Billing issues not to blame for B.C. patients refused healthcare in Alberta: Ministry of Health

Billing issues are not to blame for an increasing number of B.C. patients refused healthcare in Alberta, according to the B.C. Ministry of Health.

A Ministry spokeswoman has confirmed funds continue to flow between B.C. and Alberta, despite suggestions payment delays may be causing access issues for those wishing to receive treatment across the border.

However, the Ministry is yet to respond to other questions posed by The Free Press on December 5.

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It comes as a coalition of MLAs, including Kootenay East representative Tom Shypitka, works to find a long-term solution to patients being refused non-emergency treatment in Alberta and instead referred to Kelowna or Vancouver, up to 12 hours’ drive away for those living in the Elk Valley.

“In a country of universal healthcare, borders shouldn’t really matter on accessing proper healthcare. I think we’ve got a legitimate beef here, so we’re going to work really hard to resolve it,” Shypitka told The Free Press on Friday.

Earlier this month, Shypitka called for testimonals to take to the Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, who he will again meet with in the new year.

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Shypitka said the response has been “incredible”.

“It’s been heart-wrenching sometimes to read some of these things, we take it very seriously and we’re getting good and bad,” he said.

“I think the main thing here is it’s not an issue with healthcare per se, it’s an issue with accessing healthcare and accessing something that’s close, and financially reasonable.”

Shypitka said he has had some success working with the B.C. Ministry of Health to reroute patients referred to Kelowna or Vancouver to Calgary.

He was due to meet with local health professionals in Fernie on Wednesday to try to glean more information about the referral process.

“We’re trying to find a trend of some sort with these doctors and also just to find some testimonials. They have one-on-one relationships with other physicians in Alberta, so I may be able to get something out of them that I’m not able to get through the Ministry,” he said.

“It’s just more of an outreach to find out what they’re going through and some of the grievances they have.”

Overburdened health services have been cited as one reason patients are being denied access to some types of healthcare in Alberta.

If that’s the case, Shypitka believes the Province of British Columbia should provide financial assistance to patients who live close to the B.C.-Alberta border, but are forced to travel to Kelowna or Vancouver to receive treatment.

He said another option could be reducing the need to travel by recruiting more specialists.

“…but that’s a tough one too because if we don’t have the volume, a specialized physician won’t move here,” he said.

“It’s a real conundrum, it’s not as easy as saying just hire more doctors.”

Elkford Mayor and Kootenay East Regional Hospital District Board (KERHD) Chair, Dean McKerracher, also believes improving local services could reduce demand for interprovincial care.

“When we do the master plan study for our regional hospital in Cranbrook, I would like to add to the study to see what more we could do for our regional patients,” he said.

According to McKerracher, a lack of access to Alberta health services has been an issue for years.

He fears it is bigger than it appears and is concerned about the wellbeing of Elkford residents, as well as their East Kootenay neighbours.

“The only information I am getting is the cardiovascular surgeons are overworked and have a backlog of Alberta patients. therefore they are not accepting B.C. patients,” he said.

“There has been a suggestion that we raise the issue at the AKBLG convention to move a motion that the Minister of Health be requested to meet with the Alberta Minister of Health. This is one avenue we can take but it will be a lengthy process.”

Shypitka encouraged anyone encountering access issues to contact his office via 250-356-1631 or tom.shypitka.MLA@leg.bc.ca.

“Call us and maybe we can help, maybe we can phone the Ministry and case by case, until we get the solution… we can help out and maybe get you redirected to Alberta,” he said.

“I can’t promise anything but where there’s a will there’s a way, and we’ve got a lot of will here in our office.”

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