06/04/2013 01:43 EDT | Updated 08/04/2013 05:12 EDT

Alberta Family Care Clinics: 24 New Primary-Care Clinics Announced

doctor who explains to patient
EDMONTON - Alberta says it will roll out 24 new family-care clinics starting this fall to help relieve pressure on overcrowded emergency wards.

"This is a new way of doing things, and I think that's pretty exciting," Premier Alison Redford announced Tuesday at an inner-city health centre. "This is something that is entirely different than what we're seeing anywhere else in the country."

Health Minister Fred Horne said the clinics will be one-stop locations for precautionary care. Patients will be able to see a pharmacist, a dietitian, a nurse and a doctor all in one visit.

Horne said one of three pilot family-care clinics in Slave Lake, north of Edmonton, resulted in a 20 per cent drop in emergency room visits.

"It will guide our evolving system to be an even more effective front door to health care for Albertans," said Horne, who was with Redford at the announcement.

The province has set aside $50 million this year for the project, which was a election campaign commitment made by Redford. The final goal is 140 clinics.

The two dozen clinics are to be set up in towns and cities across Alberta. The province is going to talk to local leaders to decide how to tailor the clinics to the needs of each community.

Redford said 24 new clinics doesn't mean 24 new stand-alone buildings. The clinics may build on existing facilities, she said.

Redford and Horne would not commit to a hard target on any openings. They said that will depend on discussions on how best to set up the clinics.

The facilities are to supplement care now being handled by 40 primary-care networks, which are run by doctors.

The family clinics are not meant to replace those, but there will be overlap, Horne said.

"They are not necessarily mutually exclusive."

Primary-care networks are meant to deliver enhanced health care in specific areas, while family clinics are community-based and will deliver care tailored to a specific community, he said.

There will be discussions with doctors on how the two systems will work together, Horne added.

"Does it mean everybody is going to get everything they want? Obviously not," he said. "That's the nature of, of ...."

"Life," said Redford, finishing the sentence for him.

NDP Leader Brian Mason said primary-care networks are the heart of the issue. He said they are a profit-driven approach favouring doctors. Mason suggestion allowing both models to thrive is a poor compromise that will lead to wasteful duplication and inefficiencies ultimately borne by taxpayers.

"You can't have 140 family-care clinics in this province and have all of the (40) primary-care networks operate as they are," said Mason. "(But) the doctors are heavily invested in primary-care networks and they won't want to give them up, so they (the government) are building in a massive duplication."

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said the family-clinic model is effective, but not if Redford's government takes resources from other areas of health care.

"My concern is: Are they cannibalizing the other end of the health system to pay for it?" Sherman asked.

"We need a massive investment in primary care, but not at the cost of severely underfunding home care, cutting palliative care in Calgary and closing transition units."

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