Regina woman struggles to find doctor amid shortage in Saskatchewan

Regina woman struggles to find doctor amid shortage in Saskatchewan

As her relationship with her nurse practitioner comes to an end, Kristen Altieri is now struggling to find a family doctor to help with her mental health.

Kristen Altieri was a guest of the NDP at the Legislative Building and spoke about her struggles with finding mental health supports.
Kristen Altieri was a guest of the NDP at the Legislative Building and spoke about her struggles with finding mental health supports. Photo by TROY FLEECE /Regina Leader-Post

As her relationship with her nurse practitioner comes to an end, Kristen Altieri is now struggling to find a family doctor to help with her mental health.

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Altieri said she was referred to some physicians, but their practices no longer exist or they aren’t accepting new patients. She even searched on Google, but many of the doctors that showed up on the webpage exist in Calgary, she said.

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“When I’ve called clinics, they didn’t know who I was talking about,” Altieri, who lives in Regina, told reporters Monday. “There’s not really good options.”

Altieri was a guest of the Saskatchewan NDP as health critic Vicki Mowat asked the government to work with health-care providers to reform the system and ensure patients aren’t left behind.

Altieri’s nurse practitioner (NP) is moving on to teach nursing students in Regina, which means she won’t have time to do care. Altieri said she has struggled with her mental health and has attempted suicide a few times.

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She had access to a psych nurse for seven years, then an NP for five months, though she explained the care was inconsistent. Her current NP, who she describes as awesome, started working with her in July but is now moving on.

In the past, she said she had to go to Alberta to receive care. Altieri said she and her family are now considering moving out of Saskatchewan to get the care she needs.

“It just seems like there’s no consistent care,” she said. “You don’t know if the doctor is going to leave or not, and some don’t seem to follow up with you.”

Many health-care leaders have said the system is in crisis; hospitals are short-staffed and there is a shortage of family doctors. As a result, patients seeking care have experienced long wait-times and surgical delays.

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Unable to access a family doctor, some patients end up going to the hospital, further clogging emergency rooms.

Many health-care professionals have been asking for reforms to address these challenges, ensuring wait-times decrease and that more people have access to primary providers.

Further, many advocates say there are a lack of mental health resources and housing for people. Those experiencing challenges can end up in hospital because they don’t have those other supports.

Ambulances are parked outside Regina General Hospital in January.
Ambulances are parked outside Regina General Hospital in January. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader-Post

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In Saskatchewan, many doctors have been looking to change the way they are paid. Some have said the current fee-for-service model scares some new graduates from opening businesses because they’re worried about generating enough income.

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Under this model, some doctors feel pressured to see as many patients as they can in a day, rather than spending the necessary time with them.

Altieri said she appreciated the time her NP spent with her.

“I just never felt rushed talking to her,” she said. “She listened. She validated my pain.”

Mental Health Minister Everett Hindley said the province continues to have discussions with doctors about pay model changes.

He told reporters he’s also open to discussions about potentially expanding the scope of care that some professionals are able to provide. This includes possibly “better utilizing” NPs, he said.

Mowat has asked the government to introduce alternative payment models, saying doctors could leave to other provinces.

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For instance, British Columbia has introduced a new model that the Saskatchewan College of Family Physicians have called “very attractive” to graduates and new Canadians.

The college has asked the government to move with urgency to “transform our outdated payment model” to retain doctors.

Mowat said the province should listen to those working directly with patients. She’s also asked for a temporary injection of funding into primary care to help cover overhead costs.

Altieri said she, as well as many other patients, just want more resources.

“There’s gaps and bridges,” she said. “There’s no follow-up care and I think that would make people feel a lot better.”

jsimes@postmedia.com 

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