The chance that the doctor shortage in Rocky Mountain House will shut down its emergency department again — but this time during the busy camping season – is very real, says a local doctor.
This week Rocky Mountain House Health Centre emergency department was temporarily closed from 6 p.m. on Wednesday to 7 a.m. on Thursday when a doctor could not be found for the shift.
Alberta Health Services said the ER was closed due to COVID-19 impacting the availability of physicians across the zone who are able to provide locum coverage. Central Alberta has a number of physicians who are impacted by COVID-19, or in isolation due to being a close contact, limiting available resources.
AHS said it exhausted all efforts to find a doctor locally, regionally, and provincially.
“I’ve been here since 1997 and it’s the first time it’s ever happened in Rocky Mountain House,” said Dr. Edward Aasman.
“Hopefully this is a one-time thing, but we’re still relying on support from physicians from elsewhere to keep the emergency department open.”
He said so far weekends are covered which is when the ER gets busier.
Speaking on behalf of the Alberta Medical Association’s rural medicine section, Aasman said AHS and physicians work closely together to try and make sure closures don’t happen. But emergency departments in Fairview and Elk Point were also temporarily closed this week.
He said Rocky has had to rely much more on locums over the past year to fill shifts. Many factors have contributed to the shortage.
“It’s going to be an issue that we’re going to continue to need support from physicians outside our community to cover the hospital. That is going to continue to happen until we can attract new physicians,” Aasman said.
Danielle Larivee, United Nurses of Alberta first vice-president, said nurses in rural communities are also feeling the pressure of working double shifts, overtime, or short-handed.
Staffing challenges started way before the pandemic, she said.
“Staffing levels in most hospitals were bare bones as it was, so there’s not a lot of leeway to deal with increased pressures because of the pandemic,” Larivee said.
And nurses will continue to be overwhelmed with all the delayed surgeries and procedures, she said.
“We’re going to be spending the next couple of years trying to catch up. There isn’t an end in sight at this time.”