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Lac La Biche ER hit by doctor shortage again — AHS issues notice

No doctors in Lac La Biche ER Friday night or Monday night

"Our municipality requires 13 full-time physicians. Currently we have five."

    — Lac La Biche County Mayor Paul Reutov as the local ER again faces shifts without docs on duty


At two times over the June 24 weekend and into the new week, the Emergency Department at Lac La Biche's W. J. Cadzow Hospital will be without doctor support due to ongoing medical staff shortages in the community.

 Lac La Biche County Mayor Paul Reutove says the doctor shortage continues to be a "dire situation."

The current ER service reduction is the second one that has taken place in the last three weeks. Over the last several months, doctors have left the community. The most recent was the sudden and unannounced departure of the  former Chief of Staff at the community hospital. The same doctor, who had served the community for more than a decade, was also the primary doctor and part-owner of Lac La Biche's  Associated Medical Clinic. In the months around his departure, several other physicians have left the community.

"Our municipality requires 13 full-time physicians. Currently, we have five," Reutov said.

No docs Friday and Monday nights

Alberta Health Services issued a public notice on Friday afternoon indicating that due to an "inability to secure physician coverage," the Emergency Department will be temporarily without on-site doctor coverage from 5 pm Friday to 8 am Saturday. The scheduling issue continues from 5 pm on Monday, June 27 to 8 am Tuesday morning.

Alberta Health Services officials are emphasizing that the lack of on-site doctors is a temporary measure, as they are "working hard to ensure local residents continue to have access to the care they need during this time."

Nursing staff will remain on-site in the Emergency Department, providing triage and assessments, and referrals for patients to alternate facilities in surrounding communities as needed.

Trying to improve

Although the recent scheduling issues at the hospital are the result of a serious and festering doctor shortage in the community, Reutov feels there is some good news coming.

As recently as June 13, Lac La Biche County councillors met to discuss their plans for recruitment and retention of local medical staff. A special committee has been in place for the last two years to find ways to attract health professionals to the community. Reutov said the latest meeting showed some promise.

"As of (the last meeting) we confirmed that we have two under contract," he said, urging the community not to accept the updart with caution. "There's still no guarantees, these are just under contract, and they have to do a lot of due dilligence still."

If the two new prospects do come on board, it still would't be a magic pill, as it would only bring the doctor roster for the community up to about half of what is required. But it's a start, says the mayor.

"So that would leave us with six more vacancies," Reutov said, offering some hope that continued efforts by provincial health officials and municipal officials will continue to find more candidates.

"We are going to continue working, and believe you me, council and me are doing everything we can as we understand the urgency of these matters," he said.

During the reduced ER services, EMS services will reain available to the community and patients are asked to call 911 if they have a medical emergency.

AHS officials say any patients in need of more care will be re-routed to surrounding healthcare centres.

Residents are reminded to call Health Link at 811, which is available 24/7 for non-emergency health-related questions.

"We are thankful for the support of surrounding healthcare centres and medical staff and would like to thank the community for its patience and understanding during this time," said AHS spokesperson Gayleen Froese.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.

Rob McKinley

About the Author: Rob McKinley

Rob has been in the media, marketing and promotion business for 30 years, working in the public sector, as well as media outlets in major metropolitan markets, smaller rural communities and Indigenous-focused settings.
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