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7 Alberta communities lost ER service last month

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

At the beginning of July, I reported that Alberta Health Services had cut services at hospitals in 10 rural communities in June.

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.

Boyle

The first closure announcement came on 30 June and was for the Boyle Healthcare Centre.

The announcement reported that AHS planned to operate the hospital for only 11 hours a day—from 09:00 until 20:00—for all of July. They claimed that this is when most ER and outpatient visits occur. Also, they said that they were going to temporarily admit people on an inpatient basis during the same period.

Three weeks later, however, AHS changed their mind and said that the closure would include August as well as July.

According to AHS, these overnight closures were because they hadn’t hired enough nurses in Boyle, and they hadn’t been able to find people to cover vacancies.

Boyle’s emergency department itself was also closed in June, as well as for 9 hours this past April and 13 times last June.

Spirit River

That same day, they announced that they were also closing the emergency department at the Central Peace Health Complex in Spirit River. The closure would last 48 hours starting at 07:00 on the morning of the 4th of July.

AHS announced a second closure in Spirit River for two weeks late. The 24-hour closure was to begin at 08:00 on the morning of the 14th.

Both closures were a result of AHS not having enough physicians in Spirit River.

Nursing staff were to be on hand 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.

Spirit River lost its emergency department for 24 hours last August and also experienced a closure this past April and in June.

Cold Lake

Also announced at the end of June, AHS planned to close the emergency department at the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre would have no on-site physician coverage for 8 hours, starting at 23:00 on the 1st.

A week and a half later, Cold Lake saw a second closure of their emergency department. This time, there’d be two 8-hour closures, one starting at 23:00 on the 11th and the second starting the same time the following day.

AHS also announced third closure on the 14th. This closure lasted for 8 hours, beginning at 23:00 that evening.

Nine days later, AHS made a fourth closure announcement for the community. This time, it would be six 8-hour closures—on the 25th and each day between the 27th and the 31st—each one beginning at 23:00.

All the 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, and three times in June, as well.

Sylvan Lake

On 3 July, AHS announced that the Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service would be closed until 15:00 that day due to, once again, a lack of physicians.

Two weeks later, AHS announced a second similar closure, lasting from 07:3o the next morning and lasting until 15:00 that afternoon, a total of 7.5 hours.

The service was closed a third time just 2 days later, it was closed for two 8-hour periods, beginning at 14:00 on both the 20th and the 21st.

AHS announced a fourth closure on the 26th. This closure was also for 7.5 hours, beginning at 07:30 on the morning of the 27th.

That’s a total of 38.5 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, and June.

Barrhead

Also on the 3rd, AHS announced that they were closing the emergency department at the Barrhead Healthcare Centre for 12 hours, starting at 19:00 that night.

A week later, AHS announced a second closure in Barrhead, lasting for 12 hours, beginning at 19:00.

That’s a combined loss of 24 hours last month.

Nursing staff were on-site for triage and assessments for both closures, and EMS was to be rerouted to Westlock and Whitecourt, which were about 40km and 100 km away, respectively.

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

Swan Hills

In June, AHS announced that the emergency department at the Swan Hills Healthcare Centre would also be closed for 12 hours every night, beginning at 19:00 on 10 June, but their closure was to last a month.

Well, on 7 July, they announced that they were extending the reduced hours for another month, until 9 August.

This closure was also a result of AHS not hiring enough nurses.

Swan Hills also lost ER service in January, February, and May of this year.

Airdrie

The following day, AHS announced that they were shutting down overnight service in the Urgent Care Centre at the Airdrie Community Health Centre.

The closure was to last 9 hours starting at 22:00 on the nights of the 8th and 9th. As well, healthcare staff had been directed to cut off patient admissions those two days two hours before closing, at 20:00.

According to the announcement, the closure was because AHS hadn’t hired a sufficient number of physicians.

A second similar announcement was made on the 21st. This time, however, AHS announced that the UCC would be from 22:00 until 07:00 every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for 8 weeks. Like the first closure, this was because of AHS not employing a sufficient number of physicians.

Beaverlodge

Shortly thereafter, AHS announced that they were closing the Beaverlodge Municipal Hospital emergency department for 13 hours, starting at 19:00 on the 23rd.

AHS didn’t indicate the cause of the closure

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

Bassano’s emergency department saw a closure in May, too.

Grimshaw

On 26 June, AHS announced that they were cancelling emergency department services at the Grimshaw / Berwyn and District Health Centre in Grimshaw from 19:00 that evening until 07:00 the next morning.

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).

AHS didn’t provide a reason for the closure. This was the first closure this community has received since at least the beginning of 2021.

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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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