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Re-zoning supports physician recruitment, retention efforts

Lethbridge City Council continues to support efforts to attract and retain medical professionals for the community, most recently by allowing the development of a functional and modern building to provide medical office space in close proximity to Chinook Regional Hospital.

Following a Public Hearing Tuesday, Council voted unanimously in favour of approving a Land Use Bylaw amendment for the re-zoning of lots at 950, 954, and 958 - 17 Street South, which had previously been designated Low Density Residential and were demolished by the current owner in 2020.

With the passing of Bylaw 6367, an Amendment to Bylaw 5115, and Bylaw 6368, the property owner can now apply for development and building permits to build a mixed-use building, on these three currently-vacant lots, that will offer housing and commercial space including medical and health offices that could accommodate both specialists and general practitioners.

The hospital is surrounded by residential uses which can result in conflicts, such as parking. In an effort to mitigate some of these conflicts, in 2001, the Specialist Offices Area Redevelopment Plan (SOP) was approved by Council. The SOP introduced a very specific land use district allowing only Medical and Surgical Specialists, as defined by the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons, to set up offices. General practitioners were not allowed.

"The 17 Street South properties were located within the SOP area prior to the amendment which removed the properties from the Plan," says Genesis Hevia Orio, Community Planner. "Removing them from the Plan allows for the Direct Control rezoning which introduces development rules to allow a broader range of medical practitioners to locate near the hospital in a purpose-built building that considers the scale and impact to surrounding residential uses. The development rules will regulate building height, parking and building placement. These development rules will ensure that development on this site is pedestrian friendly, human scale and effectively utilizes this site."

"Prioritizing the health and wellbeing of all residents continues to be a top priority within Council's Gateway to Opportunity 2022 Action Plan and we are committed to partnering with key stakeholders to help recruit more family doctors to Lethbridge," says Acting Mayor Jenn Schmidt-Rempel.

Earlier this year, the City of Lethbridge joined together with the Chinook Primary Care Network (CPCN), Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Economic Development Lethbridge (EDL), for a marketing campaign designed to sell physicians on the many different benefits of building a life and business in Lethbridge.

Council voted to allocate $15,000 from Council Contingencies to a family physician marketing and recruitment campaign in partnership with the CPCN, AHS, EDL and other interested partners. In August, Lethbridge County Council voted unanimously to provide $15,000 for marketing, advertising and recruitment of physicians, following a request from the City of Lethbridge.

Part of that effort included social media advertising and a promotional video, which can be seen here. The ads generated more than 450,000 impressions, reached more than 68,000 people and had more than 12,000 clicks to the City's webpage, Facebook page and expanding ads.

"The website in general had a noticeable influx of traffic from other provinces," says Schmidt-Rempel. "This is a great start and we know a bit more about who is engaged with these posts and where they are located."

In September, AHS announced that 17 family medicine physicians have committed to Lethbridge and are awaiting their College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) practice readiness assessments. They are anticipated to start practice in Lethbridge by early 2023.

Advocacy efforts will continue as necessary to ensure Lethbridge is top of mind when decisions are being made and how we can partner and collaborate with the Alberta Government for the benefit of Lethbridge residents.

Additional Advocacy items related to health care topics in Lethbridge:

  • Partnership and promotion of the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program with Mental Health and Addictions
  • Sending a letter to the Premier from Lethbridge City Council advocating for the addition of a catheterization lab in Lethbridge
  • Sending a letter, as per a Council resolution, to advocate for an academic teaching clinic
  • Continued Advocacy for EMS Dispatch improvement since changes were implemented in January 2021

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