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June 12, 2016: Calgary Metro

Calgary low-income clinics hope to improve patient care via funding change

The government is piloting a new project that plans to let some low-income, high-risk health clinics use more cash to improve patient services by changing the way nurse practitioners are funded.

The pilot is part of the government’s ongoing efforts to re-shape Alberta’s health care system, as it curbs the growth of health care spending for the next few years.

Also known as an Alternative Relationship Plan (ARP), the model will let doctors and nurse practitioners share the same pot of money at certain community health clinics, like CUPS and the Alex, according to sources on background.

Currently, money is pooled from many budgets to fund nurse practitioners, and clinics can’t dip into ARPs to fund the highly skilled nurses. Some doctors are funded through ARPs because fee-for-service models aren’t the most effective in certain cases.

The pilot likely means better services for patients, as dollars formerly allocated to fund NPs will be used to address other health care needs, according to Shelley Heartwell, chief executive officer at the Alex.

“It’s really about enhancing what we currently have already,” Heartwell said. “It helps us serve more clients and meet your needs.”

Timothy Wilson, spokesman for Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, said pilot funding will come from the department, but couldn’t say it will be funded through ARPs.

He said there are a number of pilot projects the government is considering.

“There is a focus on vulnerable, high-needs populations,” he said. “The minister has been very clear that nurse practitioners have an important role in the health system, and the government is committed to seeing that bolstered.”

Heartwell said she hopes to hire a mental health clinician with the extra available dollars if all goes well.

“Maybe we’ll put our dental bus on the road a bit more,” she said. “We’re really going to demonstrate the value of nurse practitioners.”

Eric Lavoie, president of the Nurse Practitioner Association of Alberta, said ARP funding lets NPs better provide care.

“We think that this is a step in the right direction,” Lavoie said. “However, it still leaves a large majority of Albertans unable to access NPs, who work a proven to be cost-effective and work across the entire health care system.”

He said the model doesn’t align with Alberta’s Rural Health Services Review and other reports, which calls for the immediate integration of NPs in the health care system.

“The government should create a direct, sustainable funding model so that NPs can take care of you,” he said, “rather than leave this province and work in the private sector.”

Wilson said the government will outline details of the pilot in the coming months. The Alberta Medical Association declined to comment.