AHS closed emergency department 13 times in Northern Alberta community

The emergency department lacked on-site physician coverage for over 200 hours this month.

Alberta Health Services published several media releases this month announcing the closure of the emergency department at the Boyle Healthcare Centre.

Boyle, a village of fewer than 1,000 people near Athabasca, lost emergency services a total of 13 times in June 2021.

Each time the community health centre lost emergency services, it was overnight.

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The first notice was issued on 8 June 2021, and it explained there would be no overnight, on-site physician coverage on 3 occasions: starting at 18:00 on the 8th, 22:00 on the 9th, and 19:00 on the 10th.

AHS released the second notice for a 25-hour service cancellation, running from 8:00 on the 14th until 9:00 the following morning.

Like the first notice, the third notice outlined 3 consecutive dates where there would be n0 overnight, on-site physician coverage: Starting at 19:00 on the 15th, 22:00 on the 16th, and 19:00 on the 17th.

That means that on the 15th, Boyle’s emergency department went without on-site physician coverage for a total of 14 hours, when you combine the hours missed from the second and third notices.

The fourth notice was again for overnight lack of on-site physician coverage for 3 days, all running from 19:00 until 8:00 the next morning: on the 21st, 22nd, and 24th.

And finally (or is it?), AHS issued the fifth notice just last week, shutting down on-site physician coverage in Boyle’s emergency department for 65 consecutive hours, starting at 16:00 last Friday and not ending until just yesterday morning.

Adding up all the missing hours shows that the community lost 202 hours of emergency department services in the month of June.

In all 5 cases, AHS never provided a reason for the lack of on-site physician coverage.

Nursing staff were apparently available for triage and assessments, as well as to refer patients to emergency departments in other communities nearby. EMS calls were to be redirected to Athabasca and Lac La Biche.

These closures weren’t the only times in June that AHS shut down emergency services in the province. The town of Fairview lost its emergency department for 12.5 hours at the beginning of the month, and it also closed for 12 hours starting yesterday and ending only at 7:00 this morning.

And as I noted at the beginning of the month, the community of Westlock is without some obstetric services, including C-section surgeries for the entire month of June. As well, that same story reported that the communities of St. Paul and Elk Point had nearly a third of their acute care beds reduced earlier this month.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this story, AHS issued another media release saying the Boyle emergency department would be without overnight on-site physician coverage every weeknight this week.

This new development brings the total number of days to 18, which means over half of the days in June saw no overnight on-site physician coverage.

As well, each lack of coverage will last for 13 hours (19:00–08:00), bringing the total number of hours lost this week to 65 and the total number of hours lost for June to 267.

Fairview also lost overnight emergency department service last night.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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