Cold Lake City Council has voted in favour creating a Municipally Controlled Corporation (MCC) that will operate a medical clinic in the community.

The MCC project has to clear some legislative and procedural hurdles, including a public hearing. The hearing is scheduled for January 24. If successful, the MCC will be registered as Cold Lake Primary Care Medical Clinic Ltd., with the City of Cold Lake as its sole shareholder.

Cold Lake mayor Craig Copeland said the Glacier Gate medical clinic near the hospital has been for sale for some time, creating uncertainty among its current doctors about its future. He said securing that clinic will put the city in a better position to attract and retain family doctors for Cold Lake.

Copeland said the clinic has capacity for three more doctors to practice there.

“If we own this building and operate it, we can be more engaged with AHS right at the table trying to get doctors in our community,” Copeland said. “We have a vested interest, we own a clinic, and we want that thing to be full of doctors.”

He said the number of physicians hasn’t grown appreciably since 2006, while the city’s population has expanded by approximately 36 per cent. A recent census shows that 40 per cent of city residents do not have a family doctor, and another 8 per cent have a family doctor whose practice is in another community.

Of those who do have a family doctor, almost half report it takes an average of three weeks to get an appointment.

“Since 2006 our council has worked hard to get more doctors in our community,” Copeland said. “We’ve spent a lot of time and money on physician recruitment and retention, but all of our effort and our taxpayers’ funding has been able to do is maintain the same number of physicians in our community.”

The proposed MCC-owned clinic will be run by a board appointed by city council. The board will consist of two elected officials and three members at large. Any profit from the corporation can be reinvested back into the clinic, directed towards other healthcare initiatives in the community, invested in financial instruments, saved as cash for future use, or returned to the City of Cold Lake as dividends.

The clinic will operate more or less as it does now, Copeland said. Doctors will sign an agreement to operate their respective practices out of the building. The MCC will operate the building and establish a management, booking, and billing structure.

He said there is a potential to add new services, such as evening hours or mental health services.

As far as Copeland is aware, no other municipality in Alberta has done something like this.

“Some municipalities do purchase a building and do some health care, or may turn it over to health care professionals. But we’re not aware of anybody doing this in terms of health care the way we’re doing it, like a Municipally Controlled Corporation,” he said.

“This is an unusual move, but it is one that our council felt we needed to make if we are to make meaningful progress when it comes to access to the healthcare system in our community.  If established, the clinic will have a seat at the table when it comes to recruitment and, with the City as its only shareholder, it will maintain its focus on our residents’ best interests.”

He adds it’s the city’s intention to operate the clinic long-term, rather than as a placeholder until new owners can be found.

“We’re in this for the long haul. Our ultimate goal is to fill that building,” he said. “Our idea is really to increase the availability of medical professionals to the community.”