Milk River ER was closed for 374 hours in February

5 other hospitals in the province had their hospital emergency departments closed last month, and another lost ambulatory care.

At the beginning of February, I reported that Alberta Health Services had cut services at hospitals in 10 communities in January, 9 of which lost their emergency department.

This is a continuation of similar closures throughout 2021, starting in May of that year. And it’s driven primarily 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.


The first closure announcement for February actually occured on 29 September 2022.

Last July, AHS announced that they were extending a temporary closure for the Boyle Healthcare Centre until 1 September. During this closure, the hospital would only be open between 9:00 and 20:00 every day.

However, at the end of August, AHS reported that they were extending this closure until the end of September. This new September announcement extended the closure until the end of October.

At the end of October, however, AHS issued yet another extension, this time until the end of November. But once December hit, AHS announced another extension—this time until 3 January, but then changed their mind on the 29th, extending the closure until the end of January.

As January drew to a close, AHS announced that they were extending the closure for yet another month. This marks 8 full months that this clinic is closed overnight.

AHS blamed the continued closure on “high vacancies among nursing staff” as well as their inability to find people to cover those shortages.

Boyle’s emergency department itself was also closed in June of last year, as well as for 9 hours this past April and 13 times in June 2021.


The next announcement was for the closure of the emergency department at the Tofield Health Centre, which was published on 3 February.

Originally, this closure was introduced at the end of November, for the month of December. The closure was an overnight closure, lasting 12 hours beginning at 20:00 every night, 7 days a week.

On the 29th of December, they declared that they were extending the restriction on the operating hours at the emergency department until February. However, with their latest announcement, they were extending the restriction until 2 March.

Milk River

Also on the 3rd, AHS set off a cascade of closure announcements for the emergency department in the Milk River Health Centre.

The first closure was to last for an entire weekend, beginning at 17:00 on the 3rd and ending at 08:00 on the 6th of January, for a total of 51 hours.

They announced the next closure just 3 days later, on the 6th. The 39-hour closure was to start at 17:00 that afternoon.

The third closure announcement came 2 days later, on the 8th, for another weekend closure. This one was to begin on the Thursday morning, however, starting at 08:00 and running for 48 hours.

A fourth announcement was issued on the 14th for two more closures. Each closure began at 17:00—on Valentine’s Day and the following day. The first closure was to last 15 hours, and the second was scheduled for 39 hours.

Three days later, AHS announced another three closures. The first was to start at noon on the 20th and last until the following morning at 08:00. The second would start just 9 hours after the first one ended and last for 15 hours. The third one would run for 24 hours, starting at 08:00 on the morning of the 23rd.

AHS made a sixth closure announcement on the 24th. This 63-hour closure was to start at 17:00 that evening and last for the weekend, ending at 08:00 on the morning of the 27th.

That’s a total of 374 hours this one hospital was closed last month. That’s an average of 13 hours and 21 minutes a day.

Once again, these were all due to insufficient staffing levels of physicians.

Nursing staff were on-site to provide care for individuals in community support beds and long-term care residents, and EMS were redirected to Lethbridge.

Milk River also lost their ER in FebruaryMaySeptember, October, and December of last year, as well as January of this year.

Sylvan Lake

Another closure announced on the 6th was for the Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service.

They actually announced two closures. The first closure was for 8 hours beginning at 14:00 on that afternoon. The second closure would run the same length of time but two days later.

The closures were due to “gaps in physician coverage”.

Just 6 days later, they announced that ambulatory care in this community would be shut down on two other days: 14.5 hours starting at 07:30 on the 13th and 7.5 hours starting on the 15th.

Then on the 23rd, AHS announced a third closure for Sylvan Lake, beginning at 14:00 the next day and lasting for 17.5 hours.

Finally, just the very next day, they announced two more closures: on both the 27th and 28th, and each lasting 7.5 hours starting at 07:30 in the morning.

That’s a total of 70.5 hours!

This isn’t the first time the community has lost ambulatory care; they lost it for 7 days in August 2021, over the Christmas holidays in 2021, as well as JanuaryFebruary, March, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December of last year, and January of this year.


Speaking of closure extensions, AHS announced at the beginning of December that they planned to continue keeping the emergency department at the Daysland Health Centre closed overnight, Mondays through Thursdays. This was a closure originally announced in October

At the end of December, they announced their overnight closure would last throughout January and February, as well. Finally, on 6 February, they announced they were extending the closure indefinitely. That marks 6 months straight, assuming they reopen by April.

This closure was a result of insufficient physician levels and began at 22:00 every night and ended at 07:00 the following morning.

Overnight closures also occurred in February and October. That October closure is the one that was extended throughout November and December.


On 14 February, AHS announced a 15-hour closure for the emergency department at the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre. The closure started at 17:00 that evening.

As expected, the closure was a result of the AHS not hiring enough physicians to provide adequate coverage in this emergency department.

EMS calls in Ponoka were re-routed to facilities in Wetaskiwin, Lacombe, and Red Deer.

This isn’t the first time that Ponoka has lost it’s emergency department either. It was closed down for part of one day back in April and August, as well as a 9-hour closure in September.

Elk Point

After closing the emergency department at the Elk Point Healthcare Centre in January, Alberta Health Services later that month decided to shutdown all overnight services in the emergency department in Elk Point.

This closure was to last for a month, until 20 February, and be in effect between from 19:00 every night until 07:00 the following morning. On 17 February, however, AHS announced that they were extending the overnight closure, but they didn’t provide an end date for this restriction.

These closures were a result of AHS having insufficient levels of nursing staff.

The community lost its emergency department several times in 2021, in June, July, August, September, October, and November, as well as this past AugustSeptember and October.

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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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