Clinic appealing court decision

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

The owners of the High Prairie Medical Clinic have filed a notice of appeal in opposition to a case they lost in Court of Queens Bench July 31.

Dr. Robin Laughlin and Dr. Pam Edwards, who own and operate the clinic, filed the notice Aug. 29 opposing the decision by Justice Michael Lema that allows Alberta Health Services to deny the sponsorship of foreign doctors in any clinic if the need isn’t proven.

The matter began in the spring of 2016 when the clinic recruited Dr. Tobby Anizoba, a Nigerian-trained physician practising in South Africa, to work in High Prairie. Anizoba required extra training to work in Alberta, so Laughlin and Edwards asked AHS to sponsor a practice-readiness assessment for him.

Since 2015, AHS has had sole sponsoring authority for foreign-trained physicians. Any foreign-trained doctors it sponsors can be directed to relocate to any town or city AHS identifies as having the highest need.

At issue is the need for doctors in High Prairie. AHS is on record saying one doctor is needed for every 1,500 people.

“We think it should be closer to 1,000,” says Laughlin, who also disputes the region’s population figure of 11,300 provided by AHS in court.

“We think it’s 15,000,” says Laughlin.

“They’re using postal codes. We get patients from Slave Lake and Valleyview.”

He also charges that 2-3 years ago Dr. Kevin Worry said at a special town meeting that High Prairie needed 11 doctors.

“That’s not an unreasonable number,” says Laughlin.

He adds more doctors are needed locally because doctors deal with more health issues.

“There are no specialists here,” he says. “In the urban areas, patients are referred to specialists.”

At one time, High Prairie did have 10 doctors.

“We were all busy,” says Laughlin.

What is more perplexing to Laughlin is that AHS has published two reports called the Alberta Health Primary Health Care Community Profiles. AHS’s own numbers in the reports indicated a population served by High Prairie as being 12,678 in March 2015 and 12,596 in 2017. Given the considerably lower number of 11,300 published in several court reports, AHS’s own numbers are in fact over 11 per cent higher. The 1,296 number – the lower of the two population figures – would suggest that at least one more doctor is needed.

The High Prairie Medical Clinic also operates evening hours some days to meet demand, and that between 20-30 patients are turned away each day.

Nonetheless, AHS still decided the need for another family physician in High Prairie wasn’t high enough, and declined the sponsorship request.

In his ruling, Justice Lema ruled AHS’s decision was justified and that its denial of sponsorship in High Prairie was not “for an improper purpose.”

“In fact, it was the only reasonable decision available in the circumstances here,” he wrote.

Laughlin and Edwards dispute of the population figures was discredited by Justice Lema, who said the numbers were not calculated or sourced.

However, he did note that former mayor Linda Cox and Reeve Ken Matthews agreed the population was closer to 15,000 or 20,000 but it wasn’t enough to convince him to rule otherwise.

Anizoba was eventually sponsored for a position and now works in Westlock.


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