The Alberta government has announced the first steps intended to improve access to family doctors and health professionals, including the creation of separate primary and Indigenous healthcare divisions.

The measures introduced by Health Minister Adriana LaGrange also put in place a move toward fully integrating nurse practitioners into the healthcare system, a long-sought move to allow nurse practitioners to open their own clinics.

adriana lagrangeHealth Minister Adriana LaGrange announced the measures today.

"We will be working with the college of nurses as well as the association of nurse practitioners to get this up and running as quickly as possible," says LaGrange. "Of course, it will be dependent on the nurse practitioners themselves and their desire to move into their own space, but my understanding is they're very keen to get going."

Both the primary and Indigenous care divisions will have their own deputy minister to focus on ensuring the development of policy and implementation of the recommendations brought forward.

"Right now, we don't have that," said LaGrange. "That doesn't exist within the department and it needs to exist, given the prominence that we are making on these very important processes of MAPS (Modernizing Alberta's Primary Care System) and the Indigenous MAPS. It doesn't exist now, but it's going to, and it's going to make a positive difference."

A task force is being created involving key partnerships with the Alberta Medical Association (AMA), College of Alberta Family Physicians, and the Nurse Practitioners Association of Alberta to create a new compensation model for family medicine and reduce administrative workloads for providers.

Also in development is a memorandum of understanding with the AMA to collaborate on a transition to a new physician compensation model, modernize primary care governance, and a reduction of paperwork, all to stabilize primary care.

A preliminary report is expected in January 2024 and a final report two months later. By doing so, LaGrange says the decisions reached can inform the province's 2024 budget.

"That's why I'll be working very closely with the Alberta Medical Association looking at a compensation model that we can move forward on. We know that more is required, but what that number is, we don't know just yet."

What is known is that a $57 million three-year funding pool has been established to provide family doctors and nurse practitioners with initial administrative support. Each provider could receive up to $10,000 annually.

Cochrane Mayor Jeff Genung provided some initial comments on the announcement. While he will be diving deeper into the details, he believes it could be a step in the right direction.

"If it's streamlining, accreditating health care professionals to be able to practice medicine in our communities in Alberta, moving here from other communities or just making it easier for us to hire, attract, retain health care professionals, I think it's a good thing." 

"If you can make some policy shifts that help us, those are the types of things all governments need to look at, how we can work efficiently with the tools we have," he says."If this is that, I think it's a good move."

A $20-million fund is being created for Indigenous communities to develop and operate their own primary healthcare services and projects.

An Indigenous patient complaints investigator position is being created to investigate and work to address concerns Indigenous Peoples experience with the health care system.

It will also set up a community-based Indigenous patient navigator program to support Indigenous Peoples.

Advisory panels of MAPS were established in fall 2022 and their final reports were submitted this spring. The Alberta government's 2023 budget allocated an initial $125 million over three years to implement recommendations from MAPS.

Dr. Janet Reynolds, co-chair of MAPS strategic advisory panel, anticipates more funding will be necessary.

"Depending on the numbers that you look at, less than 20 per cent of all health spending is spent in primary care and it needs to be much bigger if that's going to be our strong foundation for Albertans."

Six of 11 recommendations of MAPS advisory panel and four of the 22 recommendations of Indigenous MAPS were addressed today.

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