Rimbey, Three Hills and Sundre are among the eight rural communities temporarily without obstetric services.
Alberta Health Services facilities in those three Central Alberta communities, as well as Whitecourt, Lac La Biche, Provost, Wainwright and St. Paul, currently have their obstetric services closed, according to an AHS map showing temporary bed and space reductions.
“Obstetrical services have been temporarily paused at some AHS facilities, including Sundre, Three Hills and Rimbey, as a result of several factors, including COVID-19 response and staffing challenges,” AHS said in a statement.
”In the Central Zone, we have made this difficult decision at the three facilities in the best interests and safety of our patients and staff in response to ongoing challenges with recruitment of obstetrically trained and experienced medical staff.”
AHS said it is committed to resuming these services as soon as possible.
“We have been – and continue to be – engaged in discussions with local physicians and care teams to determine a safe and sustainable approach to obstetrical care in these communities,” AHS said.
Janis Irwin, NDP critic for status of women, said obstetric services haven’t been available in Sundre for more than two years.
“Expectant parents should not be forced to travel hundreds of kilometres because services in their communities are closed because of the (United Conservative Party’s) mismanagement of health care,” said Irwin.
“They deserve care close to home. Under the UCP, Alberta families are stuck with significant amounts of stress, uncertainty, and additional costs at the worst possible time.”
There are 19 Alberta communities across Alberta experiencing temporary bed or space reductions, according to the AHS map.
David Shepherd, NDP critic for health, said the UCP government has “inflicted so much damage” to the province’s healthcare system.
“The UCP should be directing funds and focus into ensuring that closed hospitals across the province can reopen and that women are able to access obstetric services,” said Shepherd.
“However, the UCP is focusing on funnelling health dollars to their wealthy friends. Albertans do not trust the UCP with their health care. The UCP must halt their plans for privatization and bring it to the ballot box to let Albertans decide the future of their health care.”
AHS said obstetrics requires a team with specialized skills.
”In order for nursing and medical staff to keep up these skills, they need to deliver babies regularly,” said AHS.
“All three of these sites have historically low volumes of deliveries, so maintaining staff competency and recruiting those with OBS skills is an ongoing challenge. We are continuing our aggressive recruitment strategies for this specialized workforce.”
In all communities, prenatal patients continue to receive antenatal care from their local care team, prior to being referred to a nearby facility for their delivery, AHS said, adding patients and their newborns also continue to receive care from their local provider following delivery and discharge from hospital.
Additionally, 10 of 31 acute care beds continue to be closed at the Rocky Mountain House Health Centre.