AHS announced 13 ER closures in March

One of the communities lost its emergency department for nearly 200 hours.

At the beginning of March, I reported that Alberta Health Services had cut services at hospitals in 11 rural communities in February.

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.

Cold Lake

On the first day of March, AHS announced that the emergency department at the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre would have no on-site physician coverage for 8 hours, from 23:00 on 1 March until 07:00 the next morning. Nursing staff were on hand for triage and assessments only.

A week later, on the 8th, AHS announced two more closures for Cold Lake’s emergency department. The first was from 23:00 on 8 March until 7:00 the next morning, and a similar closure starting the evening of the 9th. That was a combined 16 hours.

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


Also on 1 March, AHS announced that Barrhead would be without an emergency department for two 12-hour periods.

The first closure began at 19:00 on 1 March and ended at 7:00 the next morning. The second closure lasted from 19:00 on the 4th until 7:00 in the morning of the 5th.

Three days later, AHS announced another two closures in this community. The first lasted 13 hours starting at 19:00 on 6 March, and the second lasted for 37 hours starting at 19:00 on the 9th.

Later in the month, on the 18th, AHS announced another ER closure for Barrhead, running from 19:00 on the 19th until 07:00 the following morning.

AHS made a fourth closure announcement on the 25h. This one was also 12 hours long, beginning at 19:00 on the 29th.

Nursing staff were available to provide triage and assessments, but then would refer patients to hospitals in neighbouring communities. such as Westlock (41 km) or Whitecourt (99 km).

This marks 5 months in a row that Barrhead lost ER services, which AHS also shut down last November and December, as well as in January and February of this year.


AHS announced a third community on 1 March that would be losing emergency department service: Wabasca-Desmarais.

According to the announcement, the Wabasca-Desmarais Health Care Centre would have no on-site physician coverage from 08:00 on 2 March until 08:00 the following morning.

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 and February.


Halfway through the month, on 14 March, AHS announced a 24-hour closure at the Sacred Heart Community Health Centre emergency department in the Northern Alberta community of McLennan.

The closure began at 07:00 on the morning of 14 February. As with the others mentioned, this closure was prompted by a lack of on-site physicians. Nursing staff were on hand to care for inpatients.

These closures follow 4 closures in the community last year: in June, August, September, and November. They also saw several closures this past January and a 24-hour closure in February.

Sylvan Lake

The next day, AHS announced that the Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service would be closed for the afternoon of the 15th, opening up again at 22:00. This was due to physician illness.

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 January and 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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