7 AB hospitals lost ER services last month

One of the communities was without ER service for over 100 hours. Plus, two other communities lost obstetric services and ambulatory care.

At the end of December, I reported that Alberta Health Services had cut services in 7 rural communities over the holidays.

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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In less than a week into the new year, AHS announced that the emergency department at the Wabasca-Desmarais Health Care Centre would have no on-site physician coverage from 13:00 on 6 January until 8:00 the next morning. That was a total of 19 hours. Nursing staff were on hand for triage and assessments only.

The next day, AHS announced a 17-hour closure for the same emergency departments, starting at 15:00 that day.

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

That’s a total of 26 hours without emergency department services last month for this community.

This community lost its ER for 48 hours last summer, as well.

Swan Hills

Also on 6 January, AHS announced a 29-hour ER closure for the Swan Hills Healthcare Centre, from noon that day until 17:00 the next day. Like Wabasca-Desmarais, this closure was a result of not enough physicians being on site.


And those weren’t the only closures announced that day. AHS reported that the Fairview Health Complex emergency department would likewise have non on-site physician coverage. Their closure lasted for 12 hours, starting at 19:00 on 6 January.

A little over a week later, AHS announced another closure at this hospital. This one lasted for 16 hours, starting at 15:00 on 14 January.

The Fairview ER was shut down several times last year, including in May, JuneJuly, and November.

Cold Lake

So, we have 3 announcements on the 6th, 1 announcement on the 7th, and what do you know?—an announcement on the 8th. But this one was a doozy.

AHS announced that day that the emergency department in Cold Lake was going to see closures affecting 6 days in a row and ranging from 8 hours to 16 hours. Cold Lake received 3 more closure announcements—6 days later, adding on another 3 closure periods, another on the 25th adding 2 more closures, and one on the 28th adding 2 more closures, for a total of 16 days affected.

07:00, 9 Jan15:00, 9 Jan8
23:00, 9 Jan07:00 10 Jan8
15:00, 10 Jan23:00, 10 Jan8
15:00, 11 Jan23:00, 11 Jan8
23:00, 12 Jan15:00, 13 Jan16
23:00, 13 Jan07:00, 14 Jan8
23:00, 14 Jan07:00, 15 Jan8
19:00, 16 Jan23:00, 16 Jan4
15:00, 17 Jan07:00, 18 Jan16
23:00, 25 Jan07:00, 26 Jan8
23:00, 26 Jan07:00, 27 Jan8
23:00, 28 Jan07:00, 29 Jan8
23:00, 29 Jan07:00, 30 Jan8
Total hours116

Like with the other hospitals previously mentioned, these closures were driven primarily by not enough physicians being available.


Two days after the first closure in Cold Lake, 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 7:00 on the morning of 12 January. 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.

Later in the month, on the 26th, McLennan got another 24-hour closure, lasting until 7:00 on the morning of the 28th. This was also prompted by a lack of on-site physician coverage.

These closures follow 3 closures in the community last year: in June, August, September, and November.


Two days after the first McLennan announcement, AHS announced a closure for the emergency department in Consort.

The 11-day closure began on 13 January and lasted until the 24th. It was prompted by a COVID-19 outbreak in the long-term care unit, which is located at the same site.

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

Rocky Mountain House

Two weeks into January, on the 14th, AHS announced that the hospital in Rocky Mountain House would have no obstetric services for roughly 3 days, ending at 8:00 on the morning of 17 January.

The closure was in response to staff illnesses, and there weren’t enough staff to cover the sick leave—or, as AHS put it, the staff illnesses were “impacting staffing levels”.

The community lost their emergency department for brief periods last May and acute care beds last July.


About a week and a half later, on the 25th, 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).

Barrhead also lost ER services last November and December.

Sylvan Lake

The next day, AHS announced that the Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service would be closed for 24 hours between 7:30 that day until 7:30 on the 27th. This was due to a “sudden gap in physician coverage”.

To be fair, the service seems to be closed between 22:00 and 7:30 normally, so it was more like a 14.5-hour closure.

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.

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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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