Top of Mind: Government Relations and Supporting Members and Albertans in COVID-19

April 7, 2020

Dr. Christine Molnar, AMA President

Dear Members:

This is a very stressful time as we enter the COVID-19 surge environment. Our normal life and work patterns are disrupted and anxiety-laden. We enter this time without the confidence that we are valued by our government, having endured their inequitable treatment as they now call on us to serve. But we do not serve a government, we serve Albertans. And serve we will as we march into battle to support Albertans, facing the biggest challenge of our lifetime.

During this time we need to keep our eyes on our two-fold goal: making it through this pandemic as we care for Albertans and achieving a fair negotiated agreement with government. Our decisions must be made in the light of these goals. We need to stay firm and true to our calling in the practice of our profession and unyielding in our requirement that our rights – of good faith and fairness in negotiation, of association and arbitration – be upheld.

I have heard concern lately from some members that your AMA is not supporting a strong enough fight against a government that ripped up our contract, refused us arbitration, imposed their Physician Funding Framework on us and seemingly, at every turn, vilified our members. Your association has been working at maximum capacity to address these issues. We are constantly reevaluating our strategy and tactics to achieve our goals, support our members and achieve victory. We must consider how best we will survive, and that is as a team, united.

As discussed in my President's letter last Friday, the imposed changes brought about by the government’s framework have resulted in heart wrenching decisions about the viability of some of our practices – and in conjunction with the pandemic have dramatically affected our ability to manage. These two actualities combine to challenge the sustainability of our health care system as we know it. Emerging from this crisis we will see a different landscape. We will need to support each other to find new ways to work together.

April 1 Issues - Legal Challenge

The battle against the Physician Funding Framework is ongoing. Behind the scenes there is a lot of work being done. This includes my contact with the minister, as well as daily interaction between AMA senior staff and the senior civil service at Alberta Health. Our interactions reflect the increasing urgency experienced by physicians who are in deep distress.

The Board has approved our legal option. We will proceed shortly with this avenue of advocacy for our rights.

COVID-19 Supports and Share the Care campaign

COVID-19 has overtaken the daily practices of physicians both in the acute care sector and in community care. The AMA is working to address the implications of the pandemic for members. There is an urgent need to maintain the stability of our community practices, particularly in primary care. No matter how strong the response may be in acute care, it’s the community that will determine just how hard the pandemic will hit us. Non-COVID-19 needs for care continue. Strong, active support from community care preserves, as best we can, the acute care resources needed for COVID-19. Income stabilization for community essential services has been introduced in Newfoundland and is suggested for Alberta. 

The AMA has hosted webinars to inform members about use of the new virtual care codes, as well as changes to the SOMB as a result of government's March 31 implementation of their framework. Over 3,000 physicians participated in webinars (March 27 and April 3). The sessions are available online and can be accessed through our Virtual Care page. Please note that the Virutal Care page and AMA's COVID-19 page are being updated regularly with tools and information.

The newly formed Community Support Group (AMA/Alberta Health/Alberta Health Services/College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta) is meeting to address issues such as personal protective equipment in the community as well as payments, compensation and business continuity. We are working closely with the Family Medicine Task force and the Specialty Care Alliance Task Force in all these activities.

The AMA's Share the Care campaign launched today. It is co-branded with the Section of Family Medicine, Section of Rural Medicine and Specialty Care Alliance. The goal is to strengthen our relationship with Albertans during COVID-19. This is a digital campaign with ads on free and paid social media. The ads send viewers to a special campaign landing page where they can get more information about staying healthy, including how to maintain their relationships with their physicians. These ads reinforce the message that community-based doctors are open for business and ready to care for patients - virtually or, if necessary, in person.

There was a soft launch yesterday, April 6, featuring a letter, previously shared with you from the SFM, SRM and AMA. Here is an overview of the campaign. For those of you on social media, here are instructions for using the social media tools. Thanks to the physicians who participated so far by contributing images and video!

In closing, we will all be there for Albertans in this crisis. At the same time, I doubt there has ever been a more difficult time for Alberta physicians. Let us take strength and stand together.

"Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” - Winston S. Churchill

Stay safe and well.

In your service,

Christine P. Molnar, MD, FRCPC
President, Alberta Medical Association

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