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Alberta’s government is celebrating a four-year $77-million investment by Shoppers Drug Mart to expand its pharmacy clinics across the province, saying it will ease pressure on a strained public health care system.
The goal is to have 103 total pharmacy care clinics under the corporate banner across the province by the end of this year — an increase of 44 locations.
Shoppers Drug Mart president Jeff Leger said at a government news conference Thursday the money has been devoted to expanding and renovating clinics since 2022 across the province and to “help address some of the growing demands on the public system today.”
“The clinics are helping to backstop the provincial health-care system by improving patient experience and increasing access to primary care, giving Albertans more options when they need them,” said Leger, who added some 200,000 Albertans have visited the company’s pharmacy clinics since the first one opened in Lethbridge in 2022.
UCP Premier Danielle Smith called the clinics a “step forward for accessible primary health care” and a relief for the overburdened public system.
“Increased accessibility will take tremendous pressure off of doctors’ offices and emergency rooms of hospitals and people who are under the weather won’t have to travel far or spend so much time waiting or suffering to receive medical assistance,” she said.
Jobs, Economy and Trade Minister Matt Jones clarified that no provincial subsidies went into Shoppers Drug Mart’s expansion plan, but said Invest Alberta, a Crown corporation that aims to attract businesses to the province, paved the way for the final investment decision.
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“We’ve created an environment where businesses can succeed and we’ve made an intentional effort to increase the scope of health-care professionals in Alberta,” he said.
Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said the expansion “aligns” with the government’s efforts to reorganize the health care system — a shift that will see Alberta Health Services dismantled as the sole health authority and four new governing agencies created.
LaGrange also clarified that the government is not directly funding pharmacy-led clinics, although many pharmacy services are covered by the province.
Pharmacies can bill the province for services under the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan, including administering an injection, providing an emergency prescription, or helping to manage a chronic illness like diabetes.
‘Extreme concern’ over losing doctors remains: AMA
LaGrange said the province is “getting very close” to finalizing a deal with nurse practitioners that will allow them to open independent clinics and continues to work with the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) to stabilize family medical practices.
Doctors are anxiously awaiting $ 200 million in funding that was announced in December, as well as a new compensation model to replace fee-for-service, as 61 per cent of family doctors say they are considering an exit from their practice or the province.
AMA president Dr. Paul Parks said in a statement to Postmedia he remains focused on keeping family and rural medicine clinics open, and the government needs to recognize the urgency.
“Albertans still want to keep their family and rural generalist doctors,” he said, adding that although he doesn’t know all the details of the announcement on pharmacy clinics, his first reaction “is that it does nothing to change my extreme concern about what’s happening with patient access to comprehensive life-long care.”
Alberta Opposition Leader Rachel Notley, at an unrelated news conference Thursday, called the announcement an “empty effort to distract Albertans and to gaslight them” from the UCP’s failure to follow through on its health-care promises.
“Pharmacists have an important role to play, but our family physicians and nurses, and many other frontline health care professionals within the public system, must be supported. The announcement today is just not a replacement for that — no matter what you call it,” said Notley.