The wildfires that swept through Slave Lake, Alta., last May destroyed two-thirds of the town, but they also left another smouldering crisis: an acute shortage of doctors. Prior to the fires, the town of 7,000 had 13 doctors. After their homes were wiped out by flames, however, five physicians moved away, leaving the remaining eight doctors seriously overworked. Now, as the town attempts to recruit more physicians, it faces a daunting challenge—where to house them.
To that end, two local financial institutions have stepped in to help the small northern Alberta town in its mission. ATB Financial and Servus Credit Union, which both have branches in Slave Lake, purchased seven townhouses and offered them to the town, which plans to make them available to new doctors. Because of the shortage of homes, rental rates have soared, so doctors will be offered the homes at “pre-fire” rental rates. “Housing is very short right now,” says regional recovery communications coordinator Andrea McDonald. “It helps to say, ‘If you’re going to move to the region, we have somewhere for you to live.’ ”
Alberta Health Services, which initiated the recruiting program, aims to bring three new physicians to the town. “We’re aware that the physicians who are working in Slave Lake right now are working really hard, and we’d like to help them out by providing them with some colleagues,” says Alberta Health Services spokesman Kerry Williamson.
There are some hopeful signs that the plan is working. In mid-January, one doctor toured the town. Meanwhile, two others are planning visits to Slave Lake over the next few weeks.