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AHS closed ER in 10 communities last month

One other community had lost ambulatory care.

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

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.

Bassano

The first closure announcement came on 1 June and was for the emergency departments at the Bassano Health Centre.

According to the announcement, Bassano would lose evening service in their emergency department Mondays through Thursdays throughout June, July, and August.

Evening service would be available on the weekends, and the emergency department would be available during the day all week, between 08:00 and 17:00.

AHS claimed that the cause was a lack of physician availability. Not only that, but AHS not having enough physicians on hand meant that they were going to be consolidating the 4 acute care beds in Bassano with the acute care beds in Brooks, at least until mid-September.

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

Cold Lake

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

Two weeks later, Cold Lake saw a second closure of their emergency department.

AHS also announced third closure on the 20th. This closure lasted for 8 hours, beginning at 23:00 on the evenings of 20 June, 22 June, and 23 June.

All 3 closures were because AHS hadn’t hired enough physicians to adequately cover the emergency department.

The community lost their emergency department for a combined total of 40 hours last month.

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

Lac La Biche

On 3 June, AHS announced that they were cancelling emergency department services at the William J. Cadzow Healthcare Centre in Lac La Biche from 17:00 that evening until 08:00 the next morning.

The community lost their emergency department a second time last month, after AHS closed it for another 15 hours, starting at 17:00 on 14 June.

AHS announced a third closure for the community on the 24th. I would consist of a 15-hour closure starting at 17:00 that night, as well as a 15-hour closure starting at 17:00 on the 27th.

That’s a total of 60 hours of emergency care lost last month in this community.

All 3 closures were a result of AHS not having enough physicians in the community of over 3,000 people.

The month before, AHS announced that they were cancelling obstetrical and surgical services for an undetermined period starting 18 May.

Stettler

The following week, on 8 June, AHS announced a 24-hour emergency department closure in the community of Stettler. This closure was to begin at 08:00 on the morning of the 9th, and also was due to not enough physicians.

They had a 24-hour closure in May, as well.

Wabasca-Desmarais

On 10 June, AHS announced that another community would lose emergency department service: Wabasca-Desmarais.

According to the announcement, the Wabasca-Desmarais Health Care Centre would have emergency department service every night, starting at 19:30 and lasting for 12 hours. The 12-hour limited operation was to last for 11 days, until the 21st.

They were also stopping in-patient admissions during this period.

AHS indicated that the closures were because they hadn’t hired enough nurses.

A similar closure was announced on 20 June, where a lack of nurses shut down evening service (between 19:30 p.m. and 07:30 a.m. the following morning) for the foreseeable future.

And if the emergency department gets too busy, AHS said that they may have to close it two hours earlier, at 17:30, instead.

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

Swan Hills

Also on the 10th, AHS announced that the emergency department at the Swan Hills Healthcare Centre would also be closed for 12 hours every night, beginning at 19:00, but their closure was to last a month.

This closure was also a result of AHS not hiring enough nurses.

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

Spirit River

Three days later, they announced that they were also closing the emergency department at the Central Peace Health Complex in Spirit River. The closure would last 24 hours starting at 08:00 that morning.

AHS announced a second closure in Spirit River for 17 June. The closure would be every evening beginning at 18:00 throughout that weekend. The emergency department opened at 10:00 on both the Saturday and Sunday and 8:00 on the Monday. The closure consisted of a total of 46 hours over the entire weekend.

This closure was a result of AHS not having enough physicians in Spirit River.

Nursing staff were to be on hand for triage and assessment purposes only, and EMS calls were being rerouted to hospitals in Fairview, Grande Prairie, Beaverlodge, and Valleyview, which ranged from 55 to 165 kilometres away from Spirit River.

Spirit River lost its emergency department for 24 hours last August and also experienced a closure this past April.

Barrhead

The same day that AHS announced Spirit River’s 2nd closure, they announced that they were closing the emergency department at the Barrhead Healthcare Centre. This closure would consist of 3 12-hour periods, starting at 19:00 on 17 June, 19 June, and 21 June.

10 days later, AHS announced a second closure in Barrhead, which consisted of 2 12-hour periods, one starting at 19:00 that night and the other starting at 19:00 on the 30th.

That’s a combined loss of 60 hours last month.

Nursing staff were on-site for triage and assessments for both closures, and EMS was to be rerouted to Westlock and Whitecourt, which were about 40km and 100 km away, respectively.

Barrhead lost ER services last November and December, as well as in JanuaryFebruary, and March of this year.

Boyle

Also the 17th, AHS announced that the emergency department at the Boyle Healthcare Centre would be closed for 7 hours, beginning at 16:00.

Nurses were still there to assess and provide triages, and any EMS calls were being redirected Athabasca or Lac La Biche, which were 45 and 65 km away.

This isn’t the first time that Boyle’s emergency department was closed. It also closed for 9 hours this past April and it was closed 13 times last June.

Sylvan Lake

Three days alter, AHS announced that the Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service would be closed until 15:00 that day due to, once again, a lack of physicians.

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, and May.

Two Hills

That same day, AHS announced that the community of Two Hills would have no weeknight service for their emergency department until 21 July. The department would operate as normal between 08:00 and 20:00 until then.

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

AHS was able to find locum physicians to cover the weekends though.

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

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

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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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