The positive relationship between local doctors, politicians and Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman continued last week when the first-year cabinet member came to town and toured the Bonnyville Covenant Health Centre.
The regional health care partnership and mental health initiative were both brought to Hoffman’s attention, along with the ongoing struggles the town faces due to the small, aging health facility.
“We tried to highlight the fact that as a community we have been innovating and expanding services, but we are currently limited only by the space of our facility and the patient flow within it,” said Dr. Hendrik van der Watt. “We didn’t necessarily ask for anything specific. We just showed her that we are trying to improve services the best we can with what we have.”
Van der Watt, along with Dr. Travis Webster and Bonnyville Mayor Gene Sobolewski had the opportunity to discuss some of their issues with Hoffman. During a short presentation the Bonnyville representatives took the time to inform the health minister about the current agreement they are working on with the hopes of expanding and improving health care across the entire Lakeland region.
“We didn’t focus on Bonnyville, we focused on our region, everybody in it and the needs for different types of service,” said Sobolewski. “It is not just the town and the MD of Bonnyville but it is also the City of Cold Lake and the Town and County of St. Paul.”
In early March, representatives from Cold Lake, Bonnyville and Elk Point gathered in St. Paul to discuss a vision for improving health care right across the entire region. Van der Watt pitched the idea for a local committee, with the goal of working together to offer a variety of specialized services throughout the Lakeland, all within an hour’s drive.
“I think it is really smart. If you can each pick pieces that you can specialize in (then you can) offer opportunities for the residents to not have to travel into Edmonton all of the time,” said Hoffman. “It is certainly something that I think should be applauded and encouraged in other parts of the province.”
This vision was reiterated by the doctors and politicians in Bonnyville on the afternoon of March 30, as Hoffman had already been informed of the area’s plan earlier that day when she stopped to tour the St. Paul Wellness Centre.
“We came across with a positive message on how we are doing our part improving patient care in the region,” said Webster. “For her to hear such a positive message from us, I think, peaked her interest. She was quite engaged throughout our presentation and the tour.”
Hoffman was also intrigued to hear about the local commitment and drive to tackle the lack of mental health care services and support in the town. Launching a mental health review was one of the first things Hoffman did was elected. The issue is something she has committed to improving right across the province.
“Mental health is incredibly important,” said Hoffman. “We will certainly be moving forward on funding more ways to integrate services throughout Alberta. The needs are certainly continuing to grow. The fact people are talking more about mental health is incredibly positive.”
With the provincial budget release set for April 14, Hoffman’s trip to town could have been viewed as a chance for locals to make a last second pitch for funding. When questioned on the budget Hoffman refused to divulge any details, saying the stops in the Lakeland were just part of her mandate to visit as many health care centres as possible.
“I like to be out in facilities non stop. It is a priority for me,” said Hoffman. “I like to be out of Edmonton. Obviously what we do in Edmonton is important, but it is not the only important work that happens in Alberta in health care.”
While Bonnyville has been left in the dark, unaware of whether they are in the upcoming budget plans, the doctors and politicians still felt good about the meeting.
“It is good to have people hear about our community and the things we are doing,” said Webster. “I am hopeful we will end up with some improved access and services for Bonnyville, but at the very least it is just a positive message about our community.”