Healthy, Happy, and Winning Awards

Healthy, Happy, and Winning Awards

By Brooks Region Economic Development

Health care across the globe has been a huge focus in 2020 and little Brooks, Alberta is no different. But not just in the scary COVID-19 sense, there have also been some good news stories popping up this year. Between some big awards and stakeholder collaborations, the Brooks Region in Southeast Alberta is making moves.

In May 2020, Brooks Community Medical Director, Dr. Erich van der Linde, won a Rural Service Award from the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada. This national level award recognizes physicians who live and work in rural Canada and have served their communities for over 10 years. Dr. van der Linde plays an important role in the local healthcare community through his work in his clinic, at the hospital, and in recruiting new and retaining current doctors. Originally from South Africa, Dr. van der Linde states that moving to Brooks was "the best decision I've made in my life".

Then in June 2020, the South Shore Medical Clinic in Brooks was the recipient of the University of Calgary's "Rural Clinic of the Year" award. This accomplishment is all the more meaningful as clinics are nominated and voted for by the resident doctors that work at them.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit Brooks harder than most urban communities in Alberta, it was obvious to community leaders that a coordinated response would be required to stop the spread of the virus. The municipalities lobbied provincial leaders to set up an asymptomatic testing site which tested 3,653 people – almost 15% of the regional population – over a three-day period. The City also moved to set up Community Isolation Centres for those who had been identified as close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases and had difficulty isolating at home. Alberta Health Services made the referrals and people were hosted in local hotels with volunteers from social service organizations checking on everyone daily. The focus on mass testing and creating safe places to isolate must have worked to stop the spread because active cases saw an immediate and steady decline with no subsequent spike in new cases.

The Brooks Region is located within Alberta Health Services' South Zone and has great access to health services; within the Region are two hospitals and five medical clinics, and 86% of residents have a family doctor. But this wasn’t always the case; in 2009 Brooks faced a huge crisis as the number of local physicians decreased and the community lost its obstetric services. Lacking enough qualified physicians to run the department, expectant mothers had to drive over an hour to Medicine Hat, or two hours to Calgary. Babies were being born on the side of the highway and it was obvious that something needed to be done.

Since then, municipal and community leaders have worked diligently to turn things around. Fast forward a few years and the situation is very different. In recognition of efforts to restore obstetrics services, plus the ongoing approach towards physician attraction and retention, the City of Brooks and the County of Newell were selected as the recipient of the 2017 Rural Health Professions Action Plan Alberta Rural Community Physician Attraction and Retention Award. That same year, a Quality of Life assessment was performed and residents reported an overall satisfaction rate of 80% for health care services. In times where local governments are facing countless obstacles in creating safe and viable communities, the future of the Brooks Region is looking pretty healthy.