06/20/2012 03:51 EDT | Updated 08/20/2012 05:12 EDT

Alberta government MLAs to take pulse of communities on better health care

EDMONTON - Alberta Premier Alison Redford and her MLAs plan to fan out across the province this summer to take the pulse of what citizens want to see in team-based health care.

"This is the first point where we're going to say, 'Now let's take those (health-care) conversations and let's now think in specific communities about what that means, where the resources are, where the gaps are, and put family care clinics in place,'" Redford told a news conference Wednesday at an east-end clinic.

Her government is running three family-care clinics on a trial basis and has promised to set up 140 across Alberta.

The clinics use teams of professionals, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and dietitians to deliver family-focused care and divert the flow of patients at crowded emergency wards.

The clinics will work with the 40 primary-care networks already in place.

Redford said her MLAs will speak to care providers and residents to learn the unique needs of each area.

"Access to primary health care must be the door to health care," said Redford.

She said the consultation is informal with no written reports, no deadline, and no set timeline for the 140 clinics.

"This will be an evolutionary process," she said.

Opposition NDP leader Brian Mason said he's skeptical about a process that begins and ends with politicians from one party.

"At some point we need to provide for public input in a non-political way in terms of what the needs are," said Mason.

"You have to ask the question: 'Are MLAs and politicians the best vehicle to determine what the health needs are in a community?'"

Mason said Redford's promise for 140 clinics was made in desperation to grab headlines to prop up sagging poll numbers in the April general election.

Now, said Mason, Redford has to figure out how to ensure the family clinics don't conflict with the similar mandate of the existing primary-care networks, which he said are run by — and favoured by — doctors.

"They (the government) can't keep riding two horses that are veering off in opposite directions," said Mason.

"This is just a public relations exercise to provide them cover until they can make up their minds."

Opposition Wildrose critic Kerry Towle said Redford is over-thinking the problem.

About 10 per cent of patients currently taking up acute-care beds are there because there aren't any spots in less expensive, long-term care beds.

Towle said solving the long-term care bottleneck would go a long way to relieving pressure on emergency rooms.

"We know what is bungling up the system is people awaiting long-term care placement sitting in acute-care units," said Towle.

"If you could do that, you would free up the system a lot more."

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