The St. Albert and Sturgeon Primary Care Network will join other Primary Care Networks in the area to create a zonal committee, the province announced on June 14.
The changes, which according to the province are being made to reduce duplication of services and improve integrated healthcare, will see all 42 of Alberta’s Primary Care Networks designated into five zones, similarly to Alberta Health Services.
Dr. Ashan Fernando, president of the St. Albert and Sturgeon Primary Care Network, says the move will allow Primary Care Networks to work together and learn from each other.
“Just like ourselves, there are other PCN’s out there that are doing really great things in different areas,” he says. “We can learn from them and bring in those programs here to hopefully deliver our patients care better and more efficiently.”
Under the new framework Alberta Health Services and Primary Care Networks will be able to share information a resources.
A provincial committee is being created and will oversee all five zones. They will meet for the first time in July.
Fernando says the Edmonton zonal committee, which the St. Albert and Sturgeon Primary Care Network will be a part of, will meet in the following months. The five zones are expected to be formed by the end of the year.
“With all the work that’s going to be happening in the background, patients might see new programs starting to be available within the year,” he said.
Currently each of the 42 Primary Care Networks operate as individual silos and are in control of the creation and implementation of programming and policies.
The St. Albert and Sturgeon Primary Care Network, for example, has a maternity clinic whereas other Primary Care Networks do not. It also has a strong focus on services for seniors and mental health.
“The advantage of the silos is that it allowed local PCN’s to meet the local health needs of their patients and that’s a good thing,” he says.
Sarah Hoffman, Alberta Minster of Health, says the changes will bring the networks together to provide better healthcare outcomes for Albertans.
“Rather than working as 42 individual islands, they’re coming together as five continents,” she says.
Primary Care Networks are collections of doctor’s offices that work together to provide the best care for their patients.
Funding is provided by the government to hire mental health professionals, dieticians, nurses, therapists and other health professionals, who are shared across the network.
Over the past month family doctors across the province voted 88 per cent in favour of changing the governance system.
The government and doctors are also discussing a new funding model for Primary Care Networks. Hoffman says the model should be in place by the next fiscal year.
Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services says the zonal committees will still see the individual needs of communities met.
Some zones, for example, have greater mental health and addictions needs. The Primary Care Networks in that zone would then have more mental health and addictions professionals allocated to those networks.
Fernando says once the Edmonton Zone is developed he will strongly advocate for senior care and mental health services.
“St. Albert and Sturgeon is a unique PCN within the Edmonton zone. We cover a rural area and we’re also just a little geographically separated from Edmonton, so we have some unique patient populations that we are hoping to get better care for and better access to services.”
He says Sturgeon County has a higher rate of chronic diseases than the provincial average and residents live further away from clinics, making access to health care more challenging.