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11 Alberta communities lost ER service in August

One other community had lost ambulatory care, a second lost urgent care centre services, and a third lost obstetrical care.

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

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.

Beaverlodge

The first closure announcement came on 1 August and was for the Beaverlodge Municipal Hospital emergency department. The 12-hour closure began at 20:00 that night.

A week later, AHS announced a second closure of the emergency department at the Beaverlodge Municipal Hospital.

AHS’s original plan was to close the Beaverlodge emergency department for 24 hours starting 08:00 on the 8th and then for an additional 12 hours starting at 20:00 the following day. However, the next day, they changed the 12-hour closure to another 24-hour closure.

Not only that, but following that closure Wednesday morning, they announced a fourth closure to take effect at 21:00 that night and lasting for 11 hours.

AHS announced a fifth closure on the 12th, but this one was supposed to last 48 hours, starting at 09:00 on the 13th.

That’s a total of 119 hours that their emergency department was closed last month.

Nursing staff were on hand for triage and assessments, and EMS were rerouted to hospitals in Grande Prairie and Spirit River.

The closures were a result AHS not hiring an adequate number of physicians to cover the emergency department.

EMS were to be redirected to Grande Prairie and Spirit River, which are 42 kilometres and 100 kilometres away, respectively.

Beaverlodge’s emergency department saw closures in May and July, too.

Calgary

The next closure was announced the day after the first Beaverlodge closure, at the South Calgary Health Centre. Except, it wasn’t an emergency department, but the urgent care centre. And it wasn’t a closure per se, but a reduction in hours.

Prior to the adjustment, the urgent care centre operated between 08:00 and 22:00. As of 2 August, however, the urgent care centre closes at 2 hours earlier. That means the centre is open for 14 fewer hours a week, or 728 fewer hours a year.

This adjustment is once again due to AHS not maintaining sufficient levels of healthcare staff, or as they put it, “At this time, we are unable to increase staffing at the UCC due to workforce challenges.”

Ponoka

Two days later, AHS announced a 15-hour closure for the emergency department at the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre. The closure started at 17:00 on 4 August.

As expected, the closure was a result of the AHS not hiring enough physicians to provide adequate coverage in this emergency department.

EMS calls in Ponoka were re-routed to facilities in Wetaskiwin, Lacombe, and Red Deer.

This isn’t the first time that Ponoka has lost it’s emergency department either. It was closed down for part of one day back in April.

Fort Saskatchewan

The next day, AHS announced that they were shutting down obstetrical services—including the labour and delivery units—at the Fort Saskatchewan Community Hospital.

The closure last for over 2 weeks and birthing patients were redirected to the Sturgeon Community Hospital in St. Albert. Obstetrical services resumed as of 22 August.

A lack of obstetrical staff was blamed as the reason for the closure.

Lac La Biche

Three days later, on 8 August, AHS announced that they were closing down the emergency department at the Lac La Biche (William J. Cadzow) Healthcare Centre for 15 hours beginningat 17:00 that evening.

Unexpectedly, this was a result of the AHS’s “inability to secu”inability to secure physician coverage”. Nursing staff were on hand for triage and assessments, but those needing emergency care were rerouted to emergency departments in other communities in the region.

The community lost their emergency department three times back in June. This past May, Lac La Biche also lost “obstetrical and surgical services for an undetermined period”.

Sylvan Lake

Also on the 10th, AHS announced that the Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service would be closed the next day between 07:30 and 22:00, once again, due to a lack of physicians.

The next day, AHS issued a media release specific to the Sylvan Lake closure and said that causes for the closure include “staff fatigue and the need for time away” and “short-notice sick calls”. Granted, having sufficient physicians in the first place would allow coverage when healthcare staff take time off for mental or physical health reasons.

On the 25th, AHS announced a second similar closure, lasting from 07:3o the next morning and lasting until 15:00 that afternoon. They announced another closure for the same length, starting at 07:30 on the 31st. That’s a total of 15 hours for those two days.

That’s a total of 29.5 hours that the community lost from their ambulatory care service.

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 JanuaryFebruary, March, May, June, and July.

Barrhead

Also on the 11th, AHS announced four 12-hour closures for the emergency department at the Barrhead Healthcare Centre. Each closure began at 19:00 and occurred on the 12th, 14th, 16th, and 17th.

AHS announced another 12 closure 11 days later—on the 22nd. The closure itself took effect at 19:00 on the 23rd.

That’s a total of 48 hours that their emergency department was closed.

Nurses were on site for assessment and triage purposes and EMS were rerouted to Westlock or Whitecourt, 41 and 99 kilometres away, respectively.

These closures, like the others, were because of the AHS not having enough physicians in the community.

Barrhead lost ER services last November and December, as well as in JanuaryFebruary, March, June, and July of this year.

Grimshaw

Four days after the first Barrhead announcement, AHS announced that they were cancelling emergency department services at the Grimshaw / Berwyn and District Health Centre for two 12-hour periods.

The first closure began at 19:00 on the 15th, and the second began at the same time but on the 16th. AHS didn’t provide a reason for these closure.

Later that month, on the 22nd, AHS announced yet more closures for this emergency department. This time, it was five 12-hour closures, all beginning at 19:00, on the 22nd, 23rd, 26th, 27th, and 28th.

These later closures were because AHS didn’t have enough registered nursing staff available.

Patients needing health care were directed to hospitals in Peace River (25 km), Fairview (58 km), Manning (83 km), McLennan (100 km), and Spirit River (112 km).

Grimshaw lost its emergency department in July, too.

Elk Point

The day after the first Grimshaw announcement, AHS announced two emergency department closures for the Elk Point Healthcare Centre.

Both closures were for 12 hours, one starting at 19:00 on the 16th and the other starting at the same time but on the 17th.

Three days later, AHS announced another round of closure for the Elk Point emergency department. This time, however, it was five 12-hour closures. The first one started at 07:00 on the 21st, and all the rest were overnight, starting at 19:00 on the 22nd, 23rd, 24th, and 25th.

That’s a combined loss of 84 hours.

These closures were a result of AHS having insufficient levels of nursing staff.

The community lost its emergency department several times last year in June, July, August, September, October, and November.

Consort

The day after the first Elk Point announcement, AHS announced a closure for the emergency department in the community of Consort.

This closure was indefinite, but AHS expected that it could open in early September. The multi-week closure was a result of insufficient nursing staffing levels, and AHS said that the emergency department would reopen when those levels “stabilized”.

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

Two Hills

Two days later, AHS announced a closure of the emergency department in the community of Two Hills. This closure affected overnight operating hours for the final two weekends of August, coming into effect at 20:00 each night of the closure.

AHS had already shut down overnight services on weekdays earlier this year, and extended it into August. That means that Two Hills had no emergency department after 20:00 every night of the last two weeks of last month.

Their decision to extend their ongoing overnight closure into the weekend was because of insufficient numbers of physicians able to manage the department, as well as AHS’s inability to find locum physicians.

EMS were redirected to nearby facilities in St. Paul and Vegreville.

Smoky Lake

Also that same day—on 19 August—AHS announced that they were shutting down the emergency department at the George McDougall Healthcare Centre in Smoky Lake.

This was a 24-hour closure beginning at 08:00 on 21 August.

Like so many others, this closure was a result of AHS not having staffed a sufficient number of physicians for this hospital.

Nursing staff were on site, however, to conduct triage and assessments. EMS was rerouted to health facilities in Redwater, St. Paul, or Lac La Biche.

Cold Lake

On the 24th, AHS announced that the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre would have no on-site physician coverage for 8 hours, starting at 23:00 that night.

At the end of the month, Cold Lake saw a second 8-hour closure of their emergency department, starting at 23:00 on the 30th.

Both closures were because AHS hadn’t hired enough physicians to adequately cover the emergency department.

The community lost their emergency department for a combined total of 80 hours last month.

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, and four times in July as well.

Stettler

AHS announced on 29 August that they were shutting down the emergency department in Stettler between 17:00 on the 29th until 08:00 the following day.

Unexpectedly, this closure was because of an insufficient number of physicians in the area to properly staff the emergency department.

Nursing staff were on site for assessments and triage, and EMS were redirected to facilities in Lacombe, Red Deer, and Drumheller.

Stettler had a 24-hour closure in May, as well, and one in June.

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By Kim Siever

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

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