First virtual RA elects new executive
The first virtual representative assembly (RA) presented by the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) elected Regina family physician Dr. Barb Konstantynowicz as president.
Dr. Konstantynowicz becomes the 54th president of the SMA. She succeeds Dr. Allan Woo, a Saskatoon orthopaedic surgeon.
The SMA’s spring RA usually attracts physician-delegates and observers from across the province to Regina or Saskatoon for two days of meetings, sessions, elections of officers and socializing. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a more streamlined RA was held June 18, with delegates attending and voting on matters via video conferencing. Dr. Eben Strydom of Melfort was elected vice-president and Dr. John Gjevre of Saskatoon was elected secretary-treasurer.
Dr. Konstantynowicz told delegates to the 2020 Spring Representative Assembly that physicians were resilient and adaptable to change when the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally altered medical care.
“We adopted policies to protect our patients and our staff. WebEx meetings and physician-based social media groups have allowed us to connect with colleagues to learn about ongoing research and other developments regarding the pandemic,” she said. “These new ways of working demonstrate the resilience and adaptability of our physicians, and their commitment to patient care. It also highlights that when barriers are removed, physicians can transform care.”
Virtual care was talked about for decades but implemented overnight. Patients and physicians have found it invaluable and both are wondering what it will look like post-pandemic, she said.
The SMA was a national leader in implementing changes to assist physicians when COVID-19 cases began to appear in Canada, specifically Pandemic Physician Services Agreements and virtual billing codes, she noted.
Medical community must address racism
Addressing racism within the medical community will be an issue during her term, Dr. Konstantynowicz noted.
“Recent tragedies have highlighted the urgent need to dismantle systemic racism,” she said. “We have seen the protests around the world. We know this issue exists in our country and our province. The medical profession is not immune to bias and discrimination and we must all do our part to address these problems.
“We have members who are the targets of racism, and others who perhaps are unaware of their prejudice. The SMA board is committed to action on these issues. I should add that racism is a health problem - and it is incumbent on us as physicians to be part of the solution.”
Dr. Konstantynowicz pointed to the development of an online Indigenous health course offered by the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine, division of continuing medical education, and the School of Rehabilitation Science. The course was added to the curriculum for all fourth-year medical students at the U of S by the undergraduate medical education program starting this past year. This initiative is the product of a partnership between the SMA and the Canadian Medical Association (CMA).
2019-20 a tough year, Dr. Woo says
In his address to delegates, Dr. Allan Woo touched on the major issues that arose during his term as president, which was extended by almost two months due to the cancellation of the spring RA in early May. He described 2019-20 as a tough year.
Three key areas of focus were MCRC negotiations, a review of the SHA interim practitioner staff bylaws and rules, and issues that arose as a result of the pandemic.
- “I’m sure we were all relieved when virtual care codes enabled us to see patients safely in the early days of the pandemic,” Dr. Woo said. “Like all of you, I know virtual care is here to stay…. The SMA is working hard to have in place a full range of virtual codes so that patients can benefit from the complete spectrum of care available through this new mode of practice.”
- Only a small number of items remain to be negotiated in the MCRC agreement, he told delegates, adding negotiations could conclude within the next two weeks, with a tentative agreement put to the membership for a ratification vote in July.
- Despite their low profile, the interim practitioner staff bylaws have a considerable impact on physicians’ day-to-day work, he said. The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and Ministry of Health are conducting a full review of the bylaws that have been in place since 2016, and are developing new rules to support these bylaws. The work of the SMA’s Bylaws and Rules Review Committee, of which he is a member, has been put on hold.
Dr. Woo’s service to the SMA was acknowledged when he received the Award of Merit from Dr. Konstantynowicz, who said his “hard work and tenacity” guided the SMA during the pandemic, and through discussions on a new contract and practitioner bylaws.
“These have not been easy times, but Dr. Woo approached them calmly and with resolve,” Dr. Konstantynowicz said. “I have worked with Dr. Woo on the Board of Directors for over seven years. Allan was often the one to speak last, but he usually summarized and synthesized what everyone around the table was thinking. He was quick to move the board along to action, once the time was right. I think that is the mark of an outstanding leader: advocating for action when the time is right.”
Physicians across Canada step up, CMA president says
Dr. Sandy Buchman, president of the Canadian Medical Association, told delegates the profession in Saskatchewan has faced an extraordinary crisis during the past few months, but like their counterparts across Canada, physicians have stepped up and continue to do so every day.
The CMA supports physicians’ work at the provincial level, while advocating nationally, for example for virtual care. The collective goal is to ensure virtual care is here to stay, Dr. Buchman said. The CMA is calling for a more coordinated, national approach to virtual care policy and governance.
The issue of PPE will remain a priority, especially as more health-care services reopen. He vowed to continue to raise awareness of the need to keep physicians and other health workers safe and protected – on the front lines and in the community. The CMA is also pressing government for increased testing, tracing and isolation in the ongoing management of COVID-19.
Dr. Buchman also said the pandemic has had an undeniable impact on physicians’ mental health. Beyond providing online resources to physicians, the CMA is partnering with the SMA to augment services already provided to members through a new 24/7 free wellness support line for physicians, learners and their families, he noted. The new support line was announced on June 15.
Dr. Buchman said he unequivocally condemns racism in all its forms, and looks forward to opportunities to actively promote diversity, equity and inclusion, such as through the upcoming collaborative project between the CMA, the U of S College of Medicine and the SMA on the course in Indigenous health.
Annual general meeting held virtually
The SMA’s annual general meeting followed the RA, also through video conferencing. Dr. Kishore Visvanathan hosted a session with members of the executive committee of the Board of Directors entitled: “So what, now what?” Four questions were put to the panelists:
- From the survey results, what stood out for you? What do you see as the most imminent issues facing the profession?
- Do you think the widespread changes in medical practice, combined with possible recurring pandemic cycles, will be permanent features going forward?
- How will the SMA leadership adapt to changes brought about by the pandemic?
- What are you or are you willing to do differently as a result of the pandemic (both individually and as a physician leader)?
The 2021 Fall Representative Assembly is scheduled for Oct. 30-31, 2020, in Regina at the Delta Marriott Hotel. In the event the meeting cannot be held, the SMA will provide notice to delegates of alternate arrangements.