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9 Alberta communities lost ER service in September

One other community had lost ambulatory care, two lost obstetrical care, and a third had their hospital closed entirely.

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

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.

Grimshaw

The first closure announcement came on 31 August and was for the Grimshaw / Berwyn and District Health Centre emergency department.

AHS announced that they were cancelling emergency department services at the Grimshaw / Berwyn and District Health Centre for 10 12-hour periods in September.

Each closure began at 19:00 every evening. They occurred on the following days:

  • Thursday, September 1
  • Friday, September 2
  • Monday, September 5
  • Tuesday, September 6
  • Friday, September 9 to Thursday, September 15

A week later, on the 7th, AHS announced two more 12- hour closures for this emergency department: beginning at 19:00, on the 7th and 8th.

Then on the 16th, AHS announced that they were extending the overnight closure for another month and a half, until 31 October.

These 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 and August, too.

Boyle

Back in July, AHS announced that they were extending a temporary closure for the Boyle Healthcare Centre until 1 September. However, the same day as the first Grimshaw closure announcement, AHS reported that they were extending this closure until the end of September.

The 13-hour daily closure applies to the entire clinic, not just the emergency department, and will be in effect as of 20:00 every night in September.

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

Fort Saskatchewan

Also on the 31 August, AHS announced that they were closing the labour and delivery unit at the Fort Saskatchewan Community Hospital.

Technically, they said that they were “consolidating” Fort Saskatchewan obstetrical services with those at the Sturgeon Community Hospital in St. Albert.

The so-called consolidation was to run from 23:00 on 1 September until 07:00 on 6 September.

AHS blamed the closure on their not having enough obstetrical staff or on call coverage.

The same thing happened in August.

Bassano

The next day, AHS announced a 4-day closure of the emergency department at the Bassano Health Centre during the Labour Day weekend.

The closure took effect at 17:00 on 2 September and lasted until 08:00 on the morning of 6 September. AHS claimed that the closure was because they failed to have enough physicians available to cover the emergency department during the long weekend.

Plus, once the emergency department reopened, AHS had extended a restriction on the operating hours that they had introduced this summer.

The extension is supposed to last until the end of October, during which time, the emergency department will be closed every weeknight starting at 17:00 and reopening at 08:00 the following morning.

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

Sylvan Lake

The next day, AHS announced that the Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service would be closed for the rest of the day, opening at 07:30 the next morning, once again, due to “a lack of physicians”unexpected staffing challenges”.

A week later, on the 9th, AHS issued a second closure notice for the Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service, effective for that afternoon and evening.

On the 20th, AHS announced two more closures. The first was a 7.5 hour closure beginning at 07:30 on the 21st, and the second was a 8 hour closure beginning at 14:00 on the 22nd.

Just 3 days later, AHS announced yet another closure for ambulatory care in Sylvan Lake. They were shutting down the service for 7.5 hours starting at 07:30 the following morning.

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, July, and August.

Elk Point

Four days later, on 6 September, AHS announced a 12-hour emergency department closure for the Elk Point Healthcare Centre.

The closure was to start at 19:00 on the 7th.

Two days later, AHS announced an additional 12-hour closure for the Elk Point emergency department, beginning at 19:00 on that evening.

AHS made a third closure announcement on the 13th. This additional 12-hour closure was to begin at 19:00 on the 14th; however, the following day, they changed it to a 24-hour closure.

Then on the 28th, they announced a fourth closure. The 12-hour closure was supposed to begin at 07:00 the following morning.

That’s a combined loss of 60 hours.

This closure was 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, as well as this past August.

Stettler

AHS announced on 8 September that they were shutting down the emergency department in Stettler until 16:00 later that day. They also planned to close it between 06:00 and 08:00 the following morning..

Unsurprisingly, 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 and August.

Milk River

Later that day, AHS also announced a weekend closure of the emergency department in the Milk River Health Centre. The closure would begin at 08:00 on 9 September and end at 08:00 on 12 September, for a total of 72 hours.

Once again, it was due to insufficient staffing levels of physicians.

Nursing staff were on-site to provide care for individuals in community support beds and long-term care residents, and EMS were redirected to Lethbridge.

Consort

On the 13th, 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.

As in August, the multi-week closure was a result of insufficient staffing levels, and AHS said that the emergency department would reopen when those levels “stabilized”, which they hope will be 7 October.

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.

Drayton Valley

On 16 September, Drayton Valley found out that they were losing their emergency department when AHS announced they planned to close it for 10 hours, starting at 22:00 that night.

This closure, like so many others over the last year and a half, was because of insufficient physician coverage.

EMS calls were rerouted to facilities in Rocky Mountain House, Devon, Red Deer, Rimbey, and Wetaskiwin.

Ponoka

Two days later, AHS announced a 9-hour closure for the emergency department at the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre. The closure started at 08:00 on 19 September.

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.

The closure was originally supposed to begin at 21:00 on the 18th, but AHS was able to find some last-minute coverage for a portion of the original 20-hour closure.

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 and August.

Westlock

AHS announced on the 21st that they were cancelling obstetric services at the Westlock Healthcare Centre until 31 October. They blamed the closure on not having hired enough trained registered nurses.

Local physicians were still providing prenatal and postnatal care for parents.

Westlock also lost operating room services in August 2021 and surgical services in December.

Daysland

Closing in on the end of the month, AHS announced on the 29th that they planned to continue keeping the emergency department at the Daysland Health Centre closed overnight, Mondays and Thursdays.

This closure was a result of insufficient physician levels.

Overnight closures originally began in February.

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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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