Local doctor pans AHS salary change

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Clinical assistants won't reapply, risking delivery of care, local doctor says

A doctor at the Sturgeon Community Hospital is warning patient care could be compromised if Alberta Health Services goes ahead with changes to the clinical assistant position.

Dr. Karim Ahmed said he and six other clinical assistants at the hospital would not apply for the job once proposed changes to the position – which he said includes cutting their incomes half – come into effect in the new year.

“They’re really risking health-care delivery,” Ahmed said. “There’s going to be an interruption in the delivery of care because most of us are not re-applying at half of our salary. I’m not sure how they’ll be covering the hospital.”

He explained clinical assistants and clinical/surgical assistants are typically foreign-trained doctors who work under contract to AHS to provide in-hospital medical care, and have a restricted licence to work in a hospital setting.

They cover overnight and weekend shifts at the hospital, and although they’re meant to be working under the supervision of fully licensed physicians, that’s not typically the case.

“On my shift, I’m the only physician physically in the hospital,” Ahmed said. “In real life, we work independently and the only form of evaluation we get is an annual report from our department head.”

He said this has been an ongoing issue since 2012, and he has plans to take this issue to both the Alberta Human Rights Commission and the Court of Queen’s Bench after his efforts to speak with MLAs and various health ministers over the years have been fruitless.

Kerry Williamson, a spokesperson for the provincial health provider, said in an email that because of the pending legal action, nobody from AHS could comment beyond providing a basic statement.

He said the majority of the 139 clinical assistants and clinical/surgical assistants are already working as employees under the new model, and referred to an AHS blog entry that states, “to date, there has been no impact on patient care because of this change.”

Ahmed noted in his experience, doctors filling these positions don’t stick around because there’s simply too much work for too little compensation.

“The people they brought in at those low salaries, starting last year, do not stay,” he said. “They hired 15 last year at those salaries, and 10 of them are gone.”

Williamson would not say what the salary range of the employees would be, or what efforts would be made to mitigate the impact on patient care should AHS be unable to fill the positions in the new year.

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Doug Neuman