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When can babies again be delivered in Rimbey, questions NDP health critic, who blames UCP for health care ‘chaos’

David Shepherd says poor government policies caused shortage of physicians, frontline health workers
NDP health critic David Shepherd says a shortage of frontline healthcare workers is one of the reasons for closures at some Central Alberta health facilities. (Advocate file photo)

Expectant mothers in Rimbey have been unable to give birth in their own community for a year, states the Alberta New Democrats.

Opposition health critic David Shepherd blames a shortage of frontline care health workers — and similar shortages in Sundre and Rocky hospitals. He’s calling on Finance Minister Jason Nixon to ensure hospitals across the province have the resources they need to operate.

Obstetrics at the Rimbey Hospital and Care Centre have been closed since Sept. 20, 2021 according to Alberta Health Services. According to the New Democrats, obstetrics in Sundre have been closed since April 6, 2020.

And Rocky Mountain House has had a reduction in acute care since Dec. 10, 2021.

“This is cruel to expectant parents,” said NDP Status of Women critic Janis Irwin. She blames the UCP government’s “mismanagement of healthcare.”

Irwin noted Jason Nixon, is the the MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, and is also Alberta’s Finance Minister. “Minister Nixon must answer when these hospitals will reopen,” said Irwin.

Shepherd wants Nixon to restore the funding that was cut from Alberta’s health care system and also fix the broken relationship the provincial government has with doctors.

He believes many physicians and other frontline health workers have left small communities, feeling disrespected by a government that tried to force a “one-sided” contract, with reduced pay, on them while causing “chaos” in an underfunded health care system.

“The finance minister’s priority should be to ensure that services Albertans rely on are available and accessible, but dozens of hospitals are fully or partially closed, including three in the finance minister’s own riding.”

Alberta Health Services spokesperson said ongoing challenges with recruitment and retention of staff with training and experience in obstetrical care, mean baby deliveries in Rimbey have to be diverted to other facilities at this time, in the interest of patient safety.

“Should a labouring patient present at the site too far along to safely be transported, emergency care will be provided at the site.”

While hospitals in Rimbey and Sundre have supported low-risk deliveries previously, there is now inadequate access to surgical and anesthesiology support. Complex, higher-risk births have always been referred to other facilities, said the spokesperson.

She noted the majority of obstetrical patients in these communities were already choosing to access care elsewhere. Given the declining number of births at sites prior to the pandemic, AHS has heard concerns from staff and physicians about the challenges they face in maintaining the specialized skills required to deliver babies.

In the 2020/21 fiscal year, 81 per cent of deliveries by patients from the Rimbey area were at alternative sites, including Ponoka, Red Deer and Rocky Mountain House. In 2019/20, 78 per cent of deliveries by patients from the Sundre area were at alternative sites in the Central Zone, stated the AHS spokesperson.

Regarding Rocky Mountain House, AHS is working hard to resume full services at the Rocky hospital, including reopening acute care beds that were temporarily closed due to “staffing challenges.”

Earlier this year, five of the 10 beds that had been temporarily closed were reopened “and we anticipate reopening the five that remain closed by the end of September when staff return from leave,” said the spokesperson.