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Health care staffing shortages continue to hamper central Alberta facilities

More closures for Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service
Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service was temporarily closed on Feb. 13 due to a gap in physician coverage, and will be closed from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Feb. 15 before reopening from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. (File photo by The Canadian Press)

Sylvan Lake continues to face health care staff shortages and facility closures, and Ponoka’s emergency department narrowly avoided a recent overnight closure.

Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service was temporarily closed on Monday and Wednesday due to gaps in physician coverage.


The latest closures in Sylvan Lake comes after a lack of doctors forced partial closures on Jan. 6, 9, and 30, and Feb. 6 and 8.

On Sunday afternoon, Alberta Health Services tweeted that the Ponoka Hospital also lacked physician coverage and had to shut down its emergency department starting at 4 p.m. and would reopen at 8 a.m. on Monday. But within a couple of hours of that announcement, AHS tweeted that locum coverage had been found and the department would stay open.

The emergency department at Consort Hospital was temporarily closed on Dec. 6 for three months due to sustained and significant shortages in nursing staff.

NDP health critic David Shepherd said the chaos in health care caused by the UCP government is forcing thousands of Albertans to travel to other communities to access the care they need.

“Across Alberta, we continue to see temporary closures at rural hospitals because of staff shortages. This stress on our health-care workers and Albertans seeking care cannot go on,” Shepherd said in a statement.

On Monday the UCP announced that it will create more than 600 new seats for nurse education bridging programs and invest $7.8 million annually in a new bursary for internationally educated nurses.

NDP advanced education critic David Eggen said the funding was a drop in the bucket compared to the cuts and increased costs students have faced.

“Tuition increases at our universities, including nursing tuitions, come at a time when we are facing a critical shortage of nurses in Alberta,” Eggen said in a statement.

“While tuition fees rise, the UCP government has cut almost $700 million from post-secondary institutions, and most students don’t qualify for affordability payments as the cost of groceries, utilities, and auto insurance continues to increase under the UCP.”


United Nurses of Alberta says it has shared a list of solutions with Health Minister Jason Copping who has yet to take the UNA up on its offer to come together and implement the proposals.

“These solutions are based on the practical experience of front-line nurses and they can be implemented immediately to improve the retention and recruitment of nurses currently working in Alberta’s public health care system,” said the UNA in a statement.

The proposed solutions that focus on retention include offering financial incentives to nurses in rural and remote worksites, ensuring appropriate staffing so nurses are not doing non-nursing work, putting vacancy management in the hands of local administrators, and more.

Ideas to recruit nurses include providing scholarships and financial support for nurses to encourage them to work in rural communities, expand the locum initiative across the province to provide financial incentive for nurses to work in AHS Central and South Zones, increase supports for new nurses as well as internationally educated nurses, and more.

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Susan Zielinski

About the Author: Susan Zielinski

Susan has been with the Red Deer Advocate since 2001. Her reporting has focused on education, social and health issues.
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