Keeping health care workers better than hiring new

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Recruiting and retaining physicians and other health care workers was a hot topic at Lesser Slave Lake Health Advisory Council (HAC) meeting on September 12.

A global problem
“The whole world we have a shortage of health-care workers,” said Dr. Frank Akwa. “The issue is not about recruitment it is about retention.”

It is very important that doctors and health-care workers feel valued and welcome in the community, he added. Then they are more likely to stay in the community long-term.

One of the community members at the meeting, Shane Pospisil is executive director of Lesser Slave Lake Indian Regional Council. He made the connection between crime and retention of health-care workers, based on a survey done in Ontario of communities under 5,000.

In response to an increase in violent crime, the Lakeside Regional Police Service will be adding five new officers in the next few years, he said. It currently has 15. These crimes are being driven by mental health issues and substance abuse. Police receive 80 per cent training on policing matters and 20 per cent on social service, he added. Often, however, they spend 80 per cent of their time on social issues. The police, health care, and other systems are not integrated.

“We’re operating in silos,” he said.

A report later in the meeting had some of the ways mental health and justice can be connected. It will be covered in a separate article later.

Recruitment levels
Slave Lake has one doctor retiring in October. It is in the interview process of replacing this doctor. The hopeful candidate may be ready to start in January. If so, Slave Lake will be back to a full complement of doctors, which is nine. People can have babies at the Slave Lake hospital, because it has family doctors with surgical and anaesthesia skills.

At Town of Slave Lake council, on September 13, councillor Fransceca Ward mentioned, that Slave Lake has a nursing and nurse practitioner shortage. This was part of her Tri-Council Health Report.

High Prairie has a new hospital. The dialysis unit is up and running, after a very long time of pushing for this. However, babies cannot be born there because of staffing issues. Both prospective High Prairie council members praised the new hospital, but expressed concern that it wasn’t running up to full potential.

Like Slave Lake, High Prairie has space for nine doctors. As of September 12, it had six. Two of these were recent hires who had started. There were two hopeful candidates for another position.

The highest priority is a family doctor who can do anesthesia, said Terry Rosser, a probationary council member. As this would allow babies to be born in the hospital once again.

Of the three hospitals within the area covered by the HAC, Wabasca was the hardest up. It was now up to three out of the potential of six physicians. This was after having been at zero for a while. The emergency department had recently returned to 24/7 service, but the six bed acute care was still closed. This meant that if anyone had to stay over night in the hospital, they had to go to Slave Lake or another hospital.

However, AHS was hoping that the acute care beds would reopen soon, said Stacy Greening, AHS Chief Zone Officer for the North Zone.

The five overarching goals of the Lesser Slave Lake HAC are addictions and mental health, seniors and long-term care, Indigenous health, rural health, and public health.

These were reflected in the other discussions at the meeting.

Indigenous Help Line
“It (the new Indigenous Help Line) connects Indigenous callers with Indigenous listeners,” said Dalique Van Der Nest with Allied Health, out of Slave Lake.

It is open Monday to Friday from noon to 8 p.m. It is 1-844-944-4744.

Cancer screening
On October 12 a cancer screening vehicle is coming to Sucker Creek First Nation.

Some people are having trouble recovering from COVID-19. This is called long COVID. The AHS website includes resources under ‘Getting Healthy After COVID-19’ for adults and children.

Community engagement
An engagement event is being planned likely about health-care technology such as My Health Records and Connect Care. My Health Records is a service where people can access their own healthcare records online. Connect Care is an internal system used by a variety of healthcare providers to share information.

Referring to Connect Care, Aaryn Lehman, AHS Community Engagement and Communications, said, “We love that continuity of care.”

High Prairie hospital is already set up to use Connect Care.

Slave Lake Family Care Clinic is being added soon, said Cindy Harmata, Senior Operating Director AHS North Zone. The Slave Lake hospital will be added in October 2023.

What is a HAC?
The HAC exists to “integrate regional voices within the integrated system,” said Susan Giesbrecht, HAC chair. This includes public meetings and engagement. There are 12 across Alberta. They were founded in 2008 when Alberta Health Services was formed.

The majority of LSL HAC members are from Wabasca – five of eight official councillors. However, two new councillors will likely be added for High Prairie on October 1. Also, Slave Lake, Joussard, and Cadotte Lake have one representative.

Lesser Slave Lake HAC members are: Giesbrecht (chair, Slave Lake), Ernie Grach (interim vice chair, Wabasca), Norman Wang (Wabasca), Edna Boucher (Cadotte Lake), Robin Guild (Wabasca), Fay Cardinal (Wabasca), Lorraine Muskwa (Wabasca), and Calvin Badger (Joussard).
On September 30, Lindsay Davies (High Prairie, former vice chair) and Lindy Fors (Atikameg) will finish their six year term with the LSL HAC.

Rosser (High Prairie) and Sacha Martens (High Prairie Town councillor), attended the meeting. They have applied to be on the council. If approved by the AHS board, they will officially join the HAC on October 1.

Other attendees included AHS North Zone and local leadership, Dr. Frank Akwa (Slave Lake), a representative from RhPAP (Rural Health Professions Action Plan), a speaker with AHS Provincial Mental Health and Justice (MJ&J), and two community members.

AHS is looking for volunteers within the hospital. Also, the HAC is recruiting board members across the region which includes High Prairie, Slave Lake, M.D. of Lesser Slave River, Northern Sunrise County, M.D. of Opportunity, Cadotte Lake, Atikemeg, Red Earth Creek, Wabasca-Desmarais, and Chipewyan Lake.

The next Lesser Slave Lake HAC meeting is February 6, 2023 from 6 to 8 p.m. on Zoom. Registration is required. For the registration link or to receive an expression of interest form email

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