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AHS cut services during the holidays in 7 rural hospitals

Alberta Health Services cut services—including surgery, emergency, ambulatory, and obstetrics—in the hospitals of 7 communities in rural Alberta over the Christmas holidays.

During the last two weeks of December, Alberta Health Services released multiple media statements indicating the loss of hospital services in 7 rural communities over the Christmas holidays.

AHS issued the first statement on 21 December, indicating that the hospital in the central Alberta community of St. Paul would offer no surgeries for 13 days straight. The closure was because of a lack of anesthetists during that period, and AHS expected surgeries to resume on 4 January.

Two days later, they issued a statement for the central Alberta community of Barrhead. Their hospital would have no functional emergency department during the day on the 23rd, for a 12-hour period beginning at 20:00 on the 27th, and for 36 hours beginning at 20:00 on the 28th. The media statement blamed the lack of physicians for the temporary service cuts and stated that nurses would be on hand to provide triage and assessment services.

This wasn’t the only time Barrhead lost their emergency department this month. AHS shut down their ER for three 12-hour shifts on the 18th, 19th, and 21st. They also lost their ER for 12 hours starting the evening of 30 November.

In all the Barrhead closures, AHS blamed “on-site physician coverage” as the cause.

That same day, AHS announced that they were shutting down the ER in the eastern Alberta community of Consort. The closure would occur between the 29th and 31st, as well as on the 4th, 6th, and 7th of January. Again, lack of physicians was the cited cause, and nurses were to be available for triage and assessment.

On Christmas Eve, AHS revealed that the fourth community losing hospital services during the holiday was Sylvan Lake, a central Alberta town of about 15,000 people just west of Red Deer. The statement said their hospital would have no ambulatory care during the evening of the 25th, with the final patients being admitted before 14:00. Ambulatory care focuses on diagnosing and treating urgent, but non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries. Again, AHS blamed lack of physician availability.

This is the fifth time AHS has reduced ambulatory care in Sylvan Lake this year.

Slave Lake, in Northern Alberta, was the fifth community to lose hospital services and the second to lose surgical services, when AHS said they were shutting down the operating room at the Slave Lake Healthcare Centre between 27 December and 1 January. Lack of physicians was to blame again.

Westlock, a town of about 5,000 in central Alberta, was the third community to lose surgical services. AHS shut down operating room services in their hospital during 4 periods over the hosptial:

  • 108 hours beginning 17:00 on 24 December
  • 13 hours beginning 16:00 on 29 December
  • 13 hours beginning 16:00 on 30 December
  • 60 hours beginning 17:00 on 31 December

Can you guess what the cause of the closure was, according to AHS?

This is the 5th time this year AHS has cut hospital services in Westlock.

Finally, Drumheller, also in central Alberta, lost its obstetric services, when AHS shut it down all day on Christmas and until 15:00 on Boxing Day. Again, they blamed “staffing challenges”.

Last year, only 1 community—Milk River, in southern Alberta—lost hospital services, when AHS shut down their emergency department 3 times at the end of December and several times in early January.

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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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