Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service offers diagnosis and treatment of urgent, but non-life-threatening conditions, seven days a week. These include sudden illness or injury that could be cared for in a doctor’s office but requires immediate attention. (Black Press file photo)

Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service offers diagnosis and treatment of urgent, but non-life-threatening conditions, seven days a week. These include sudden illness or injury that could be cared for in a doctor’s office but requires immediate attention. (Black Press file photo)

Sylvan Lake urgent care centre temporarily closed again

Doctor shortage has led care centre to shorten hours at least five times since Christmas

Sylvan Lake’s urgent care centre had to turn away patients on Tuesday morning because of a doctor shortage again.

It is at least the fifth time since Christmas that the Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service had to temporarily close because of staffing issues. The service was closed on Tuesday from 7:30 am to 3 p.m., when it reopened until 10 p.m.

The service last shortened its hours on Feb. 22, when it was not taking patients from 7:30 a.m. to noon.

As it has said for previous closures, this was a “temporary measure taken as a last resort, as all avenues to secure physician coverage have been exhausted.”

Premier Jason Kenney was in Red Deer on Tuesday and was asked whether the province was aware of the issue in Sylvan Lake and whether any measures were planned to address it.

Kenney said while he did not have specific information on the latest Sylvan Lake closure the pandemic has exasperated the challenges many rural communities face in attracting and keeping health professionals.

It is not an Alberta issue, he said. “It’s unfortunately true across rural Canada.”

Last week’s budget, which boosted health care spending by $600 million, also included a number of initiative aimed at rural health care, he said.

About $90 million will be spent each year on rural physician recruitment and retention, as well as an additional $22.5 million over recruiting and retaining nurses and supporting nurses who work in rural and remote areas.

Kenney also mentioned the RESIDE (Rural Education Supplement and Integrated Doctor Experience) Program announced earlier this month.

The program will provide up to $60,000 in under-graduation tuition reimbursements to family doctors who practise in smaller communities. They will also receive another $20,000 to $40,000, depending on the level of need in a community through a remote community incentive.