Two local physicians have made the decision to close their practices at the Reflections Medical Clinic in response to the government of Alberta passing numerous policies impacting their ability to practice medicine.
Dr. Heather Gooden and her colleague Dr. Nelini Reddy opened their practices in Chestermere in 2017, and in the last year have faced uncertainty as the government passed policies that impact their livelihoods.
“We’re having our only employer telling us we don’t have any rights to do what we want, or what we feel is ethically correct,” Gooden said.
“My partner and I know that this is not acceptable, and we’re not willing to go along with what the government says when we know what they are doing is wrong,” she said.
After the government of Alberta passed Bill 21, Bill 24 and Bill 30, Gooden and Reddy became worried that if they didn’t take action now, then they wouldn’t be able to in the future.
“Bill 21 allowed them to pay us what they decided was fair without following the negotiated agreements, and Bill 24 made it possible for them to constrict physicians to work where they are needed,” Gooden said.
After Bill 30 was passed, an ultimatum letter was written by the Minister of Health changing the standards of practice for physicians and making it difficult to close a practice or leave the province.
Although Gooden and Reddy gave their patients a 90-day notice that they would be closing their practices, Gooden is fearful they were too late and will be forced to remain open.
“We gave our 90-day notice because every single new law they passed takes away more of our ability to practice as independent physician’s,” Gooden said.
“It was the last straw for us, but who knows if we will be able to actually leave in 90 days. They might make it so we can’t,” she said.
She added, “As of right now, we’re under the assumption that we will be able to leave, but I’m scared that it doesn’t really matter what I decide, the government will tell us what we’re doing.”
In order to be an independent physical, Gooden is asking for there to be a negotiation between the government and healthcare workers.
“I would like to not feel like I’m in a toxic work environment with a boss who is bullying people into submission,” Gooden said.
“We need negotiation. If this was about money, which the government has asserted many times, then none of their cuts make sense. They have disproportionately targeted primary care. It makes us believe that this is much less about money, then it is about control,” she said.
“As independent practitioners who have taken our own ethical obligations quite seriously, frankly, I’m terrified because this is not a democracy,” she added.
Closing the practice was Gooden’s very last option in trying to have her voice heard, as she has reached out to government officials, sent letters, and signed petitions, but has been met with silence.
“It just feels like we have very little power or say over what’s happening in healthcare,” Gooden said.
“Healthcare is a very challenging area. There’s always going to be room for improvement, but in order to get improvement and in order to make a system better, you need to partner with the people who work in the system,” she said.
“If they aren’t listening to the doctors, nurses and the healthcare aids, then nothing will improve, this is not about improving a system this is about destroying a system and proving who is the boss,” she said.
Moving forward, Gooden is hopeful that Albertans realize what is happening in the healthcare system.
“There’s no negotiating happening, this is not a dispute over money. This is really at essence, much more serious and terrifying than that, we are fighting for our right to live as free Canadians right now,” Gooden said.
“With all of the bills they have passed, they could keep physicians in place until they say so. I did not sign up for that when I went into medicine,” she said.
Although making the decision to close the practice was difficult, Gooden and Reddy have received an overwhelming amount of support from their patients.
“At the heart of it, you don’t become a family doctor for the money. You go into family medicine to create relationships with people right from birth to old age,” Gooden said.
“We care for people at all stages of their life, through so many up’s and down’s, and we have generational relationships. You go into family medicine to make communities healthy,” she said.
Adding, “This is wrong. We know that this is not going to be good for any community, we know that people’s health will suffer, and we don’t want that.”