The week before Mother’s Day, Anne Scully was feeling a little off.
At first, Anne assumed her chest pain was the result of a lung infection, but with her training as a registered nurse she realized she was missing symptoms like a stuffy nose and sore throat. As the pain increased, Anne decided it was time to visit Pincher Creek Health Centre.
That choice made all the difference.
Blood work revealed the presence of fragmented proteins called D-dimer, which often indicates the presence of blood clots somewhere in the body. Anne was given some blood thinner and a CT scan was booked in Lethbridge the next day.
Though confident the doctors in Pincher Creek wouldn’t have sent her home if the situation was serious, Anne says that night spent waiting was stressful.
“It’s unsettling. You don’t find out right away if you have clots,” she says. “It just would’ve been nice to have answers then. It would’ve brought peace a lot quicker instead of being in no-man’s land.”
Getting to her 9:30 a.m. appointment with two kids under the age of three was only half the battle.
“I had to go to Lethbridge, get scanned there, then I had to be admitted to emergency so the doctor could read over what the radiologist said, and then I had to be admitted to the hospital for the night because they wanted to monitor me,” says Anne.
“It was quite the ordeal because Nelson had to take time off work with our kids — with Covid, it’s hard to find child care,” she continues.
Anne’s husband ended up waiting outside the hospital with the children before returning home, only to load everyone back up to pick Anne up the next day.
“Logistically, it’s just hard for families.”
The Scullys’ experience is common among rural Albertans accessing health care. For that reason, the Alberta government is spending millions of dollars through its Rural Health Facilities Revitalization Program to expand needed care.
Locally, Alberta Health Services announced May 17 that $3.1 million would be spent on a new CT scanner and services at Pincher Creek Health Centre.
Computerized tomography (CT) scanners use X-rays to provide imaging of organs, bones and other tissues. CT scans provide detailed images of large portions of the body in a short amount of time, helping doctors diagnose and prescribe treatment for diseases and injuries.
The investment, says Mayor Don Anderberg, indicates the provincial government has been listening to rural advocates.
“Over the past year here everything’s been up in the air as far as rural health in Alberta, up to and including what was going to happen to our health centre in our community,” he says.
A visit from Health Minister Tyler Shandro to Pincher Creek back in March was the first step in extending the proverbial olive branch, something the mayor sees as continuing with the CT scanner.
“The discussion we had with the minister encompassed CT scanning and upgrades here,” Mayor Anderberg says, adding that providing CT services in Pincher Creek shows the government is willing to support rural health in a significant way.
“For us, it’s a pretty big deal.”
The upgrade will positively affect neighbouring communities in the region, saving locals the trip to Lethbridge. The difference in time will help physicians give patients the care they deserve, says Dr. Gavin Parker, Pincher Creek medical community medical director and board chairman for the Rural Health Professions Action Plan.
“It gives people access to the same quality care they would expect if they went to a bigger city emergency room,” he says. “It levels the playing field a little bit for rural patients.”
Keeping patients local, Dr Parker adds, streamlines care, which makes a difference in serious circumstances. Patients are often sent to Lethbridge where a CT scan reveals a serious condition that needs specialized treatment in Calgary. Performing a CT scan in Pincher Creek will help serious cases get the specialized treatment they need faster.
No firm timeline has been determined for when the scanner will be operational, but the project is expected to begin soon.
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze