‘Really hard to manage,’ Airdrie physician, clinic owner says top-up for business costs doesn’t go far enough

Some Alberta physicians say the top-up from the province targeting the costs of running a clinic is not enough to tackle inflation, or to help the ongoing shortage of family doctors.

The province is adding $20 million to the $80 million Business Costs Program for the remainder of the agreement period with the Alberta Medical Association (AMA).

The program works out to an extra $2,300 on average per physician each year.

Dr. Fredrykka Rinaldi, AMA president, said the agreement demonstrates collaboration and a way forward, but says gaps still remain for family physicians.

“The increase is about a half of one per cent, while inflation is seven to eight per cent, so it doesn’t cover the gap,” said Dr. Rinaldi, during a joint news conference with the province on Thursday.

She added, “Unlike other small businesses, physicians can’t raise the price of the fee for the office visit. We can’t just say ‘my overhead went up 20 per cent, so does my cost.”

Health Minister Jason Copping said the additional funds will help ease business operations for physicians and specialists.

“Too often we hear about doctors having to leave their communities and move to a larger centre just to make ends meet,” said Copping.

He added “like other Albertans, they are feeling the pinch to pay for wages, supplies, and literally keeping the lights on in their clinics.”

FEAR OF BURNOUT

Dr. Fozia Alvi owns two clinics in Airdrie and attests to the business challenges she faces in family practise, saying that more than half her wage goes to overhead and costs.

“Everything is expensive. Our lease is expensive. To hire staff is expensive. All the supplies that we use is expensive,” she said before adding, “it’s really hard to manage an office right now or to own a business because we are losing money.”

She is expanding her scope of work by adding medical aesthetics into her practise, and is even considering selling one of her offices to cope.

“If I keep on working like that, I will follow my colleagues and I will get burnout too.”

She said she’s witnessed colleagues leave the province, or abandon the profession altogether, and says interest from Calgary medical school grads to enter family practise is dwindling.

SEEKING A DOCTOR

Craig Provost walked in to see a doctor at the East Airdrie Medical Centre on Thursday. His regular doctor is leaving family practise for good by the end of December.

“I prefer to have a family doctor, somebody that gets to know me and my conditions and everything,” said Provost. “It’s a little frustrating.”

He’ll said he’ll be looking for another doctor for the fourth time in eight years as an Airdrie resident.

“(The province) needs to do something to get more doctors and to retain those doctors. Because obviously something is going on where the doctors aren’t staying.”

OTHER SUPPORTS FOR DOCTORS

Alberta Health increased the annual reimbursable amount for continuing medical training of $2,100 by $100 and reinstated reimbursements for medical liability insurance for some practitioners.

The province will cover $1,000 of the annual deductible for around 5,000 urban physicians.

It builds off previous announcements after the new Alberta Medical Association (AMA) agreement with the province was passed this fall.

With files from CTV Edmonton

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