Forging ahead: Inaugural thoughts from the new AMA president

October 1, 2021

Dr. Vesta Michelle Warren, AMA President

Dear Members,

In this letter: 

  • thanks to outgoing president, Dr. Paul Boucher
  • strong AMA stance on COVID-19
  • discussions with government 

Thanks to my predecessor 

Earlier this week, during the 116th Annual General Meeting, I officially assumed the position of AMA president for the 2021-22 year. It is an extraordinary honor to be able to represent you in this role, a role that my predecessor, Dr. Paul Boucher, occupied with grace, humility and compassion throughout an unimaginably challenging year.

I want to thank Dr. Boucher, on behalf of the entire profession, for his unwavering dedication to the AMA and its members. I know that when he assumed this role last year, he anticipated being busy, but I think that the reality of the past year was more than anyone could have expected. On top of his work with the AMA, he continued to work tirelessly in the ICU – caring for Albertans in their time of need through wave after wave of an unrelenting pandemic. Yet he never hesitated to make himself available, often on short notice, for meetings with staff, various committees, government and anyone who needed his wisdom and insight. He was adept at staying calm, looking at all sides and maintaining balance in his responses. I can’t think of anyone who could have guided the profession as deftly over this past difficult year. I am deeply grateful for Dr. Boucher’s leadership, the mentorship of Dr. Christine Molnar and the guidance and support of the AMA Board, committee members and staff.

As I take up the baton and lead us into the year to come, I have thought long and hard about the challenges facing our profession and our province. I want to speak to some of the work that is underway and the issues that I know will shape my term as president.

A strong stance on COVID-19 

While the entire world has been impacted by COVID-19, few jurisdictions are facing the grim reality that Alberta is experiencing right now. Out of necessity, responding to this crisis will occupy much of our attention over the coming months.

From the start of the pandemic, the AMA has helped lead the charge against COVID-19. We have encouraged vaccinations, spoken out against anti-vaccine misinformation and supported essential public health measures. Through it all, we have advocated for the interests of physicians and our patients on issues such as personal protective equipment or the impact public health orders have on community clinics. We have also been actively advocating to address the opportunities and risks associated with virtual care. Virtual care has become a necessity during the pandemic, and although we were able to advocate for the creation of virtual fee codes early on, those codes remain woefully inadequate.

As the fourth wave began to rise, we took a stance and called for the mandatory vaccination of health care workers, while expressing support for vaccine passports. COVID-19 was a big topic at the Fall Representative Forum, and following a motion from RF, we called upon the premier and the minister of health to institute a fire-breaker to limit the spread of COVID-19 and ease pressure on our collapsing health care system. Although these actions can be somewhat polarizing – even among some of our members – the RF felt that with the lives of so many at stake, we needed to take a strong stance. We shared the COVID-19 related resolutions that came out of RF with Minister Copping earlier this week. RF has directed us to advocate publicly on these issues and we have already started doing so. We will continue this advocacy as we take these important messages to the media and wider general public. Watch for more of that early next week. 

Discussions with government 

While COVID-19 will remain a priority for the foreseeable future, we must also continue taking steps to move forward on other issues that are impacting members, including our ongoing discussions with government. 

One of the key motions passed during Fall RF was in support of the position developed by the Board and presented by the Negotiating Committee, which deals with four key issues, including:

  • Budget management and stability for physicians.
  • Dispute resolution and the importance of transparent and fair processes.
  • Improving the relationship between government and physicians.
  • Health policy and the valuable expertise physicians bring to the table.

As our province grapples with the crushing fourth wave of the pandemic and our new health minister familiarizes himself with the portfolio, we know it may not be possible to achieve an agreement with government for quite some time. But some things can’t wait. Issues like improving the virtual care schedule, physician supply and resource planning, Alternative Relationship Plans, advancing the Patient’s Medical Home, income equity in the profession and the growing opioid crisis will shape much of our work over the next year. Some of these issues are particularly urgent, including the December 31 deadline for those physicians on AHS stipends and the struggles community practices are facing in trying to stay afloat.

We will be encouraging government to consider delaying decisions or reviews that should fall within any new agreement – such as stipends, changes to fees proposed by the Physician Compensation Committee, Z codes etc. We need government to put supports in place that will assist in this current wave and any future waves of COVID-19. Additionally, we believe the AMA must be included in the development of health policies and strategies, both during the pandemic and beyond. Our expertise is a valuable resource that government should put to use for the benefit of Albertans and our health care system. 

As I look to the year ahead, I recognize the challenges we are facing are formidable – but so are we. Physicians have never shirked from doing what is difficult, but necessary, to protect their patients and our health care system. The motions passed at the Fall RF demonstrate our willingness to take a stance, take action and take care of Albertans and each other. I will take inspiration from all of you and use it to guide me over the next 12 months.

I am honored to be your president and I commit to doing my best for you, for the AMA and for all Albertans. 

Your comments are welcome in the following ways:

  • Communicate with me privately and directly by email if you would like a reply: president@albertadoctors.org.
  • Comment publicly on this President’s Letter (please be aware that comments are public, i.e., not members-only, even if you are logged in as a member).

Sincerely,

Vesta Michelle Warren, MD, CCFP, FCFP
President, Alberta Medical Association

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