Service at Lac La Biche's W.J. Cadzow Hospital Emergency Department was disrupted for a second overnight shift last week, starting late Thursday afternoon.
Alberta Health Services officials say a lack of on-site physicians will force a temporary disruption to service from 5pm Thursday afternoon to 8 am Friday morning. A similar disruption due to the absence of a physician took place earlier in the week, from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday morning.
Municipal officials say the community is working through a doctor shortage. A recruitment and retention committee has been working to bring more physicians to the area. In recent months, the community has seen a significant reduction in local doctors, including the sudden departure late last year of the community's chief medical officer.
In recent weeks, locum doctors — visiting physicians from other communities — have rotated into the hospital to help cover Emergency Department shifts. This week's disruptions to service indicate that those doctors have not been available.
"This is a temporary measure and AHS is working hard to ensure local residents continue to have access to the care they need during this time. If coverage is found, this disruption may be cancelled," noted AHS spokesperson Sara Blake.
Nursing staff remain on-site in the emergency department providing triage and assessments, and referrals for patients to alternate emergency departments in surrounding communities/
"Patients are asked to call 911 if they have a medical emergency," says Blake, explaining that residents continue to have alternative access to reliable healthcare. "EMS will remain available to the community and will be re-routed to surrounding healthcare centres to ensure local residents continue to have access to the emergency services they need."
Residents are also reminded to call the 24-hour Health Link service at 811 for non-emergency health-related questions, she said.
"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 Blake.
At a recent Lac La Biche County council meeting, it was said there was a potential of two new physicians moving to the community, but now specific details or time-frames were given.
According to the recently-released provincial budget for 2023, the Province is spending $250 million over the next four years on recruitment and retention strategies.
Excerpt: Budget 2023 -26 Fiscal Plan
Budget 2023 fully funds the new agreement with the Alberta Medical Association (AMA). There is $6.2 billion budgeted in 2023-24, increasing to over $6.4 billion by 2025-26 for physician compensation and development programs (including grants to post-secondary institutions for academic medicine which are reported in Advanced Education).
Under the AMA agreement, more than $250 million over four years (beginning in 2022-23) is targeted to recruitment and retention programs so more Albertans can access family doctors, and to provide more support for physician practice viability. Among other initiatives, this includes $15 million annually for recruitment and retention of physicians who practice full-time in underserved areas, a $12 million increase for the existing Rural Remote Northern Program, and $12 million annually to enhance physician support Healthcare Action Plan investments will strengthen the EMS system, and reduce surgical and emergency department wait times. Calgary Cancer Centre delivers an additional 160 inpatient beds and provides a wide range of services for cancer patients, while serving as a research and education hub. 80 Expense | Fiscal Plan 2023 – 26 programs. Physician practice viability is enhanced through the Business Costs Program, with support for these costs increasing to $20 million per year, with the greatest impact for office-based practices.