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Healthcare for rural residents: Saddle Hills County hires nurse practitioner

March 21, 2024

By: Austin Payeur, Community Reporter

Saddle Hills County has allocated nearly $380,000 in an innovative initiative it says will improve access to health care for its residents.

The Saddle Hills County Health Clinic has been in development since 2021. 

“(The clinic) will be open to all Saddle Hills County residents,” said Saddle Hills communications co-ordinator Monica Randell.

The municipality tagged $20,000 to renovate a portion of its administration building into a health clinic last year. Last August, it hired a nurse practitioner to operate there once renovations are complete. 

Randell said the nurse practitioner will be able to perform many of the duties of a general practitioner including prescriptions, ordering lab work, completing drivers medical and disability forms, and performing minor procedures such as stitches.

Palvi Sharma was hired by Saddle Hills County in August 2023 as nurse practitioner. (Photo by Austin Payeur)

Palvi Sharma was hired in August 2023 as nurse practitioner and is an employee of the county.

Sharma is a member of the College of Registered Nurses of Alberta and Nurse Practitioner Association of Alberta. She previously practiced in a private clinic in Halifax.

She said she is excited to partake in the Saddle Hills project.

“It’s all new and this is a great project for the county residents,” Sharma said.

“People are having troubles finding doctors, nurse practitioners or any health care providers.

“If I can help them to be at their home, and to prevent unnecessary emergency visits that would be awesome. Because that puts strains on our system if people are going to ER for chronic issues that we can handle in the community.

“I can’t wait to start here!”

Randell described the initiative as a way to provide healthcare to rural residents and alleviate the workload for local practitioners for issues such as prescriptions and senior care.

“There may be other (municipalities doing this) but as far as we are aware it is just the two of us in Alberta,” said Randell. She said Thorhild County has a similar program. 

As of March 1, renovations were completed to renovate an empty office and kitchenette into the medical clinic. Medical equipment and signage are expected to be delivered soon and Randell said she anticipated the clinic to be operational within the next “couple of months.”

“There is no set date at the moment because it’s very dependent on the provincial government and Alberta Health Services (AHS),” Randell said.

The 2024 interim budget has tagged $308,982 for operating expenses of the program, including wages, equipment and insurance, said Randell.

Last year, the municipality invested about $55,552 for the operating expenses of the nurse practitioner program.

Randell said there are some administrative tasks waiting on completion, such as a Provincial Organizational Readiness Assessment (PORA) that will develop proper measures to safeguard health information by Alberta Health.

“Other ongoing tasks include the creation of clinic policies and clinical forms, including patient consent and intake forms. We are also waiting on Privacy Commissioner Approval which is required in order to obtain a VAX/Lab ID.”

Currently, capacity at the clinic is unknown, she said.