At the beginning of March, I reported that Alberta Health Services had cut services at hospitals in 7 communities in February, 6 of which lost their emergency department.
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.
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The first closure announcement for March actually occured on 29 September 2022.
Last 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 September 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.
As January drew to a close, AHS announced that they were extending the closure for yet another month. Then they announced another extension at the end of February, but this time, they didn’t provide an end date for the closure. Last month, however, marked 9 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.
Speaking of closure extensions, AHS announced at the beginning of December that they planned to continue keeping the emergency department at the Daysland Health Centre closed overnight, Mondays through Thursdays. This was a closure originally announced in October
At the end of December, they announced their overnight closure would last throughout January and February, as well. Finally, on 6 February, they announced they were extending the closure indefinitely. That marks 6 months straight, assuming they reopen by April. They reaffirmed this indefinite restriction in hours in an announcement on 2 March, but at the end of the month, issued a notice that regular hours would resume on 3 April.
This closure was a result of insufficient physician levels and began at 22:00 every night and ended at 07:00 the following morning.
The same day as the Daysland announcement, AHS issued a notice for the closure of the emergency department at the Tofield Health Centre.
Originally, this closure was introduced at the end of November, for the month of December. The closure was an overnight closure, lasting 12 hours beginning at 20:00 every night, 7 days a week.
On the 29th of December, they declared that they were extending the restriction on the operating hours at the emergency department until February. However, in February, they were extending the restriction until 2 March. With this new announcement, AHS was extending the closure for at least another month.
AHS said the closure was a result of “staffing challenges”, but didn’t go into more detail than that.
The following day, AHS published an update for an ongoing closure of the emergency department at the Consort Hospital and Care Centre.
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 another extension in December, which was scheduled to last for 3 months.
This new update has extended the closure for an additional 3 months. Assuming the closure lasts, this will be a total of about 10 months without an emergency department.
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.
AHS announced on the 6th that they were closing the Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service an hour early—21:00, instead of 22:00.
The closures were due to “gaps in physician coverage”.
Then on the 20th, AHS announced another early closure for Sylvan Lake, beginning at 14:00 later that day, 8 hours sooner than normal.
Four days later, they announced a full closure: on the 26th and lasting 7.5 hours starting at 07:30 in the morning.
And they managed to squeak in one more closure on the 31st, beginning at 07:30 that morning and lasting for 7.5 hours.
That’s a total of 24 hours.
This isn’t the first time the community has lost ambulatory care; they lost it for 7 days in August 2021, over the Christmas holidays in 2021, as well as January, February, March, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December of last year, and January and February of this year.
On 7 March, AHS announced that another community would lose emergency department service: Wabasca.
According to the announcement, the Wabasca Health Care Centre would have no emergency department service for 24 hours, beginning at 08:00 on the morning of 8 March.
AHS indicated that the closures were because they hadn’t hired enough physicians.
EMS were to be rerouted to Slave Lake (122 km), Athabasca (175 km), or High Prairie (250 km).
On 13 March, AHS announced a 10.5-hour closure for the emergency department at the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre. The closure started at 06:30 that morning.
Just 3 days later, they published a notice of another closure for this emergency department, starting at 06:30 on the 17th and once again running for 10.5 hours.
That’s a combined closure of 42 hours for this community of 7,000 people.
As expected, both closures 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.
Lac La Biche
On 14 March, AHS announced that they were closing down the emergency department at the Lac La Biche – William J. Cadzow Healthcare Centre twice.
Both closure would last for 15 hours, with the first beginning at 17:00 that evening and the second beginning at the same time but two days later.
Unexpectedly, this was a result of the AHS’s “inability to secure physician coverage”.
10 days later, AHS said they’d be closing the emergency department agin, but this time for 24 hours. The closure was to begin at 08:00 on 26 March.
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 of 2022, as well as once two months later in August. Last May, Lac La Biche also lost “obstetrical and surgical services for an undetermined period”.
On the 16th, AHS said that they’d be shutting down the emergency department in Beaverlodge overnight, until 07:00 the following morning. The announcement didn’t indicate a start time or an exact duration.
AHS also didn’t provide a reason for the closure.
Nurses were on hand during the closure to provide assessment and triage services, but everything was completely shut down for the second. EMS were to be rerouted to Grande Prairie or Spirit River, which were 42 kilometres and 100 kilometres away, respectively.