A maternity clinic that delivers about half the babies in Medicine Hat has announced it will no longer accept new patients by the end of January, and will be closed by the end of July unless new funding can be found.
While family physicians typically pay their own overhead, a gap in Medicine Hat’s obstetric services in the mid-2000s led to the creation of the Family Medicine Maternity Clinic.
Funding was provided by the local Primary Care Network (PCN) and Palliser Health, which later merged with the other regional health authorities to form Alberta Health Services.
Dr. Gerry Prince, a family doctor who helped establish the clinic in 2006, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday that the clinic will be closing because the PCN’s funding is due to end in March, and AHS wants the clinic to cover the overhead that includes rent, utilities and all staffing costs.
Prince said this would be impossible, as the costs to run the maternity clinic are roughly double the amount of what it can bill for patient services — and the doctors are already paying overhead for their family practices.
“[The clinic] is closing because AHS is backing out of our partnership, and says that they want to rent us the space that we’ve been able to occupy for the last 17 years with their support,” Prince said.
“And the numbers they’ve given us are just impossible. So, they’ve given us an overhead number, which is about double the amount of billing that we would actually do through the clinic in a year.… Our guys, you know, as much as they love it, just — there’s no way you can do that.”
A ‘flawless service’
The Family Medicine Maternity Clinic was established due to a crisis of accessibility, Prince said. At the time, obstetrics was a declining service in the area.
“There [were] fewer and fewer physicians doing it, and got down to the point where there were only two family docs delivering about half of the babies in town — as well as running the regular community clinic,” Prince said.
“It was becoming quickly unmanageable.”
Prince said that some of the local doctors turned to health authorities and asked for help.
The regional health authority agreed, and later partnered with the Primary Care Network to meet the community need. The clinic was established, attached to the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital.
“We went with this idea of a maternity clinic, a dedicated care centre, and they helped support it. And ultimately, we built a specified, designated, custom-design clinic area in our new ambulatory care building,” Prince said.
Eventually, Prince said, that clinic would deliver 500 to 600 babies a year.
“We’ve had a flawless service that’s been providing great care for 17 years.”
Soon, it’s all coming to an end — and why is complicated.
“The docs want to provide the services, we just need to be able to manage it financially. So the real question is, whose job is it [to save