By Cal Braid
Westwind Weekly News
The news weeklies in southern Alberta regularly receive media releases from a variety of sources, and the recent spate of notifications of emergency room closures in Milk River is cause for concern. Though the region in the deep south of Alberta is sparsely populated, the Milk River Health Centre (MRHC) is the only one of its kind in that area.
We asked Alberta Health Services (AHS) for a clearer picture of what was happening at the MRHC and received the following reply.
“Recent closures of the Milk River Health Centre Emergency Department have been the result of a lack of physician availability. In each case, the closures have been a temporary measure as Alberta Health Services (AHS) continues to work to ensure local residents continue to have access to the care they need during this time.”
“Patients in the community experiencing a medical emergency are asked to call 911, with EMS calls being re-routed to Raymond (60 km away) or Lethbridge (87 km). Individuals requiring non-emergency medical care are encouraged to call their family physician or call Health Link at 811 to speak with a registered nurse.”
“After more than two years of pandemic response, recruiting healthcare professionals is a challenge across North America. AHS is experiencing recruitment challenges across the province, and in particular with physicians in areas outside of main urban centres. These rural vacancies have contributed to a lack of sufficient staffing resources in rural and regional communities.”
“We value the work our physicians and healthcare teams do every day in communities across Alberta, including Milk River, and remain committed to supporting recruitment and retention efforts to ensure we are there for our patients and families when they need us the most.”
The statement highlights a healthcare issue that was a hot topic during last summer’s United Conservative Party (UCP) race. Several of the candidates put forth ideas—some of them quite good—that were rallying cries for improvement in health care. A few of those ideas included: creating accessible pathways that lead secondary students into post-secondary medical programs, incentivizing healthcare professionals to ‘work rural’, and creating student-loan benefits for homegrown medical students.
It appears doubtful that a quick-fix solution is on its way, and it will be worth monitoring the actions the new UCP leadership takes in addressing the challenges at AHS.