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8 rural Alberta communities lost ER service in April

A 9th community had its obstetrics department closed until May.

At the beginning of April, I reported that Alberta Health Services had cut services at hospitals in 13 rural communities in March.

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.

Athabasca

On the first day of April, AHS announced that the emergency department at the Athabasca Healthcare Centre would have no on-site physician coverage for two 12-hour periods, from 19:00 on 1 April until 07:00 the next morning, and during the same period starting the evening of the 2nd. Nursing staff were on hand for triage and assessments only.

Ponoka

A week later, AHS announced that they were shutting down the emergency department at the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre. It’s unclear how long the emergency department was closed, based on the news release, but it was closed until 17:00 that evening.

Like most of the other closures the province has seen over the last year, this one was a result of insufficient physician coverage.

Those needing emergency care were to be rerouted to Wetaskiwin, Lacombe, or Red Deer.

Whitecourt

That same day, AHS announced that they were pausing obstetrical services at the Whitecourt Healthcare Centre until some time in May because of not enough available physicians in the area.

Consort

Six days after the Whitecourt and Ponoka announcements, AHS announced that the emergency department in Consort would be closed for nearly 10 days straight, other than for a 3-hour stint on 20 April.

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

Consort lost emergency department services in JuneAugustSeptember, and December of last year, as well this past January and February.

Two Hills

That same day, AHS also announced that the community of Two Hills would have no overnight service for their emergency department until the beginning of May. This closure would affect only overnight service on Mondays through Thursdays, beginning at 20:00 each of those days.

This follows similar closures during the last day of February, all of March, and the first 11 days of April.

Patients needing emergency healthcare were to be redirected to St. Paul or Vegreville.

Boyle

Also that day, AHS announced a 9-hour closure for the emergency department at the Boyle Healthcare Centre beginning at 8:00 the next morning.

Last June, the emergency department in Boyle was closed 13 times.

Spirit River

A week later, Spirit River became the next community to lose its emergency department. The 12-hour closure began at 19:00 on 21 April.

Spirit River lost its emergency department for 24 hours last August.

AHS didn’t specify the cause of the closure, but patients were to be rerouted to Fairview, Grande Prairie, Beaverlodge, or Valleyview if they required emergency services.

Cold Lake

Five days later, AHS announced that the emergency department at the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre would have no on-site physician coverage for two 8-hour periods, from 23:00 on 26 April until 07:00 the next morning, and then again starting the evening of the 27th. Nursing staff were on hand for triage and assessments only.

Cold Lake lost their emergency department 16 times in January, 3 times in February, and twice in March as well.

Wabasca-Desmarais

Finally, AHS announced on 28 April that another community would lose emergency department service: Wabasca-Desmarais.

According to the announcement, the Wabasca-Desmarais Health Care Centre would have no on-site physician coverage for three 24-hour periods. The first began at 8:00 on the morning of the 29th, and the next two were consecutive, beginning on 2 May at 08:00.

This emergency department was closed again on the 14th, but this time, the closure lasted for 72 hours. A third closure was announced on the 18th, and lasted for 96 hours: from 08:00 on 21 March until 08:00 on 25 March.

Nursing staff were on hand for all the closures 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 192 hours without emergency department services last month for this community.

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

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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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