11 AB hospitals lost ER services last month

One of the communities was without ER service for nearly 2 weeks. Plus, one other community lost ambulatory care.

At the beginning of February, I reported that Alberta Health Services had cut services at hospitals in 7 rural communities in January.

This is a continuation of similar closures throughout 2021, starting last May. And it’s driven 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.

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Swan Hills

On 31 January, AHS announced that the emergency department at the Swan Hills Healthcare Centre would be closed for 17 days straight beginning at 08:00 on 1 February, a result of not enough physicians being on site.

A week and a half later, AHS was able to find some locum (like a sub, but for doctors) coverage and announced that the ER would be open between 17:00 on 11 February and 08:00 on 14 February.

Swan Hills also lost ER service in January of this year.

Cold Lake

On the first day of February, AHS announced that the emergency department at the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre would have no on-site physician coverage from 23:00 on 1 February until 07:00 the next morning. That closure happened again the following day. That was a total of 16 hours. Nursing staff were on hand for triage and assessments only.

Two weeks later, on the 14th, AHS announced two more closures for Cold Lake’s emergency department. The first was from 23:00 on 14 February until 7:00 the next morning, and a similar closure starting the evening of the 16th. That was a combined 16 hours.

On the 25th, AHS made a third closure announcement for this community in February. The 8-hour closure began at 23:00 the night of the 25th and was apparently due to a lack of available physicians.

Cold Lake lost their emergency department 16 times in January as well.


Three days after the first Cold Lake announcement, AHS announced that they were reducing operating hours for the emergency department at the Daysland Health Centre, effective 7 February. The department would be open 7 days a week but only between 07:00 and 18:00. The announcement indicated that the emergency department could resume regular hours after 10 days.

They provided no rationale for this reduction in hours.

In the same announcement, AHS said they were eliminating all acute and rehabilitation beds except for 10 of the former and 7 of the latter. They claimed that this closure was due to a lack of nurses.


Three days after the Daysland announcement, AHS announced that the emergency department in Consort would be closed on 4 separate dates: the 7th, 8th, 10th, and 11th.

AHS claims this closure was due to a lack of physicians.

Consort lost emergency department services in June, August, September, and December of last year, as well this past January.


That same day, AHS also announced that the emergency department at the Wabasca-Desmarais Health Care Centre would have no on-site physician coverage from 08:00 on 8 February until 08:00 the next morning. They were closed again between 08:00 on the 10th and 08:00 on the 11th. Nursing staff were on hand for triage and assessments only.

Any medical emergencies were to be redirected to hospitals over 100 kilometres away, in Boyle, Slave Lake, or Athabasca.

That’s a total of 48 hours without emergency department services last month for this community.

AHS issued a second closure notice for Wabasca-Desmarais on the 18th. This one was scheduled to last 3.5 days, starting at 17:00 that evening and ending at 08:00 the morning of the 22nd.

This community lost its ER last summer, as well as this past January.


The same day as the initial Consort and Wabasca-Desmarais closures were announced, AHS announced a 24-hour closure at the Sacred Heart Community Health Centre emergency department in the Northern Alberta community of McLennan.

The closure began at 07:00 on the morning of 8 February. As with the others mentioned, this closure was prompted by a lack of on-site physicians. Nursing staff were on hand to care for inpatients.

Anyone needing emergency care was to be rerouted to High Prairie, 50 kilometres away.

These closures follow 4 closures in the community last year: in June, August, September, and November. They also saw several closures this past January.


About a week later, on the 14th, AHS announced that Barrhead would be without an emergency department for a 12-hour period beginning at 19:00 that night.

Like so many others I’ve mentioned in this article, this closure was a result of not enough physicians on site. Nursing staff were available to provide triage and assessments, but then would refer patients to hospitals in neighbouring communities. such as Westlock (41 km) or Whitecourt (99 km).

This marks 4 months in a row that Barrhead lost ER services, which AHS also shut down last November and December, as well as in January.


On the 21st, AHS announced that a physician shortage was the cause of a closure of the emergency department at the Lacombe Hospital and Care Centre. The 9-hour closure began at 23:00 on 21 February.

Sylvan Lake

That same day, AHS announced that the Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service would be closed for the morning of the 22th, opening up again at noon. This was due to a “gap in physician coverage”.

This isn’t the first time the community has lost ambulatory care; they lost it for 7 days last August, as well as over Christmas and this past January.

Milk River

The following day, the Southern Alberta community of Milk River lost its emergency department, which closed for 15 hours as of 17:00 that evening. AHS once again blamed a lack of physicians.

Two days later, the community lost its emergency department for another 15-hour closure, also because of not enough physicians available.

Milk River also saw closures at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021.


The day after AHS announced Milk River’s first closure, they announced a 24-hour closure for the Beaverlodge Municipal Hospital, beginning that morning at 08:00. The community is less than 50 kilometres west of Grande Prairie, so emergency patients were redirected there.

AHS said the closure was due to not having enough physicians available. Nursing staff were on-site for triage and assessments.

Two Hills

Finally, on the last day of the month, AHS announced that the community of Two Hills would have no overnight service for their emergency department for all of March and the first 11 days of April.

The closure began at 20:00 on 28 February and was driven by a lack of physician coverage. However, because of limited locum coverage, AHS said the this emergency department would have overnight service on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sunday.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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