At the beginning of December, I reported that Alberta Health Services had cut services at hospitals in 6 rural communities in November.
This is a continuation of similar closures throughout 2021, starting in May of that year. And it’s driven primarily by a lack of physicians in the communities.
Well, last month, AHS announced that they were once again issuing closures at various hospitals around the province.
The first closure announcement for December actually occured on 29 September 2022.
Back in July, AHS announced that they were extending a temporary closure for the Boyle Healthcare Centre until 1 September. During this closure, the hospital would only be open between 9:00 and 20:00 every day.
However, at the end of August, AHS reported that they were extending this closure until the end of September. This new announcement extended the closure until the end of October.
At the end of October, however, AHS issued yet another extension, this time until the end of November. But once December hit, AHS announced another extension—this time until 3 January, but then changed their mind on the 29th, extending the closure until the end of January. This marks 7 full months that this clinic is closed overnight.
AHS blamed the continued closure on “high vacancies among nursing staff” as well as their inability to find people to cover those shortages.
Two days before Christmas, AHS also announced that they were closing the emergency department at the Boyle hospital. The 65-hour closure would start at 16:00 that evening, last all day on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and end at 09:00 on Boxing Day.
Speaking of closure extensions, AHS announced the next day that they planned to continue keeping the emergency department at the Daysland Health Centre closed overnight, Mondays through Thursdays.
On the 29th, they announced their overnight closure would last throughout January and February, as well.
This closure was a result of insufficient physician levels and began at 22:00 every night and ended at 07:00 the following morning.
Also announced that day was Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service being closed for 2 hours, as of 20:00, due to “unexpected staffing challenges”.
Three days later, they announced that ambulatory care in this community would be shut down again, this time for 8 hours, beginning at 14:00 that afternoon.
Then, on the 19th, they announced a third closure for ambulatory care, 8 hours on the 20th and all day on the 22nd.
This isn’t the first time the community has lost ambulatory care; they lost it for 7 days last August, as well as over last Christmas and this past January, February, March, May, June, July, August, September, October, and November.
AHS announced a third closure on 2 December, when they said that they’d be shutting down the emergency department overnight at the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre.
The 8-hour closure would run from 23:00 on 4 December until 07:00 the following morning.
7 days later, on the 9th, AHS reported that they were closing Cold Lake’s ER a second time, starting at 23:00 that night and reopening at 7:00 the next morning.
These closures were because AHS was unable to hire a sufficient number of physicians to provide sufficient coverage.
Nurses were on hand for assessment and triage services.
Cold Lake lost their emergency department 16 times in January, 3 times in February, twice in March, twice in April, once in May, three times in June, four times in July, and twice each in September, October, and November as well.
On 6 December, AHS announced they were extending a closure for the emergency department in the community of Consort.
This closure was announced in August, and AHS expected that it could open in early September; however, they failed to resolve the staffing challenges that led to the initial closure. That led to an extension in October, an extension in November, and now this new extension, which is scheduled to last for 3 months.
As in August, the multi-week closures have all been a result of “sustained and significant shortages among nursing staff”, and AHS said that they are “working to resume regular operations in March, and will continue to reassess its ability to open sooner”.
Consort lost emergency department services in June, August, September, and December of last year, as well this past January, February, April, May, and, as I indicated above, August, September, and October.
On the 7th, AHS said that they’d be shutting down the emergency department in Beaverlodge for 15 hours.
The closure, which was a result of AHS not employing a sufficient number of physicians in the area, was scheduled to begin at 17:00 that evening.
12 days later, AHS announced a second closure for this emergency department, beginning at 08:00 on 19 December and lasting for 24 hours.
AHS announced a third closure for the Beaverlodge ER the following day, running for 15 hours beginning at 17:00 that evening..
Nurses were on hand during all 3 closures to provide assessment and triage services, and AHS were to be rerouted to Grande Prairie, which is 42 kilometres away.
On the 12th, AHS announced that they planned to shut down the Swan Hills Healthcare Centre overnight for nearly a month.
Beginning on the 19th, the hospital would be closed for 12 hours every night, beginning at 19:00. The closure was scheduled to end on 16 January.
The closure was because AHS hadn’t been employing sufficient numbers of nursing staff. Plus, they couldn’t find any locum coverage either.
AHS reported that EMS calls were to be re-routed to Westlock (118 km), Whitecourt (80 km), or Slave Lake (116 km).
The next emergency department closure was announced on 15 December for the Manning Community Health Centre.
The emergency department in Manning would be closed for two 8-hour periods, the first beginning at 23:00 on 15 December and the second beginning at 23:00 the following day.
AHS claimed the closure was a result of their inability to hire a sufficient number of nurses.
EMS calls were supposed to re-routed to health facilities in Peace River (96 km) and Grimshaw (83 km).
The next day, AHS announced that they were closing obstetrical services at the Fort Saskatchewan Community Hospital for 11 days starting at 07:00 on the 18th.
Patients needing obstetrical care were being redirected to the Sturgeon Community Hospital in nearby St. Albert.
The closure was a result of AHS not hiring enough obstetricians for this hospital.
On 20 December, AHS announced a 12-hour closure at the Sacred Heart Community Health Centre emergency department in the Northern Alberta community of McLennan.
The closure was to begun at 07:00 that morning; however, just hours later, AHS extended the closure to last a full 24 hours.
This closure was prompted by AHS having a sufficient number of registered nurses on staff.
These closures follow 4 closures in the community in 2021: in June, August, September, and November. They also saw several closures last January, a 24-hour closure in February, and a 24-hour closure in March.
AHS announced 2 days later, on the 22nd, that they were shutting down the emergency department in the Milk River Health Centre for several days over the holidays.
The closure would begin at 17:00 the following evening and end at 08:00 on the 3rd of January, for a total of 255 hours.
Once again, it was due to insufficient staffing levels of physicians.
Nursing staff were on-site to provide care for individuals in community support beds and long-term care residents, and EMS were redirected to Lethbridge.
On 28 December, AHS announced that they were also closing the emergency department at the Central Peace Health Complex in Spirit River. The closure would last 24 hours starting at 07:00 that morning.
Like with so many others, this closure were a result of AHS not having enough nursing staff in Spirit River.
Nursing staff were to be on hand, however, for triage and assessment purposes only, and EMS calls were being rerouted to hospitals in Fairview, Grande Prairie, Beaverlodge, and Valleyview, which ranged from 55 to 165 kilometres away from Spirit River.
The final closure announced in December was also on the 29th, when AHS declared they they were extending a restriction on the operating hours at the emergency department in Tofield that they had introduced at the end of November, for the month of December.
The closure is an overnight closure, lasting 12 hours beginning at 20:00 every night, 7 days a week.