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9 rural Alberta communities lost ER service in May

Two other communities had lost obstetrical services.

At the beginning of May, I reported that Alberta Health Services had cut services at hospitals in 8 rural communities in April.

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.

Sylvan Lake

On 3 May, AHS announced that the Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service would be closed for the most of the day on the 4th, having no physician coverage between 07:30 and 15:00.

Two days later, AHS announced another closure, lasting from 07:30 to 13:00 on 6 May. This gap was because of physician illness, whereas the first closure was because of lack of physician coverage. Granted, if you don’t have enough physicians to cover sick leave, it’s probably still a lack of physician coverage.

They announced another closure a few weeks later. Due to lack of physicians, ambulatory care service would be closed between 07:30 and 15:00 on the 25th.

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, and March.

Cold Lake

The next, AHS announced that the emergency department at the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre would have no on-site physician coverage for 8 hour, starting at 23:00 that evening.

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

Whitecourt

The same day as the first Sylvan Lake announcement, AHS announced that they were extending the obstetrical services pause at the Whitecourt Healthcare Centre that they had put in place in April. They expect that the extension will last until 8 June, which makes nearly two full months in a row that the community has had no obstetrical services at their hospital.

Lack of physicians with obstetrical skills is the reason AHS provided for the extension.

Swan Hills

On 6 May, AHS announced that the emergency department at the Swan Hills Healthcare Centre would be closed for 12 hours beginning at 19:00 on 7 May, a result of not enough nurses and a lack of locum coverage.

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

Consort

Also on the 6th, AHS announced that the emergency department in Consort would be closed every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday for nearly an entire month, between 9 May to 6 June. This is in addition to the regular closures in the evenings and on weekends.

AHS claims this hours reduction was due to a lack of physicians.

Consort lost emergency department services in June, August, September, and December of last year, as well this past January, February, and April.

Cold Lake

Three 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 9 May until 07:00 the next morning and then again starting at 23:00 on the 10th. Nursing staff were on hand for triage and assessments only.

A week later, on the 16th, AHS announced two more 8-hour closures for Cold Lake’s emergency department. The first was from 23:00 on 16 March until 7:00 the next morning, and a similar closure starting the evening of the 18th.

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

Wabasca-Desmarais

On 16 May, 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 a 72-hour period, lasting from 8:00 on the morning of the 17th and ending at 08:00 on the 20th.

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.

This community also lost emergency department service in April, March, February, and January, as well as last August and September.

Milk River

The following day, the Southern Alberta community of Milk River lost its emergency department, which closed for 15 hours as of 17:00 that evening. AHS once again blamed a lack of physicians.

Two days later, the community lost its emergency department for another 15-hour closure, also because of not enough physicians available.

Milk River also saw closures at the end of 2021 and beginning of 2022, as well as in February.

Lac La Biche

On 18 May, AHS announced that they were cancelling both obstetrical and surgical services at the William J. Cadzow Healthcare Centre in Lac La Biche for an undetermined period starting 18 May.

The “temporary pause” was due to a lack of physicians with general practice anesthesia skills, as well as AHS’s inability to secure locum coverage.

Two Hills

On 20 May, AHS announced that the community of Two Hills would have no overnight service for their emergency department between for 4 days. The department would operate as normal between 08:00 and 20:00 those days, returning to the usual 24-hour service on 24 May.

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.

Bassano

Four days later, AHS announced an ER 15-hour closure in the community of Bassano. The closure was scheduled to start at 17:00 that evening and end at 8:00 the following morning. Like many of the other closures, this was a result of an insufficient number of physicians.

Stettler

That same day, they announced a 24-hour closure in the community of Stettler. This closure was to begin at 08:00 on the morning of the 25th, and also was due to not enough physicians.

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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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