As a result of “staffing coverage issues and the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Barrhead Healthcare Centre temporarily closed 10 medical in-patient beds earlier this month.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) senior communications advisor Diana Rinne confirmed in an e-mail on Friday afternoon that the 10 in-patient beds were expected to remain closed until Aug. 31.
As well, due to a lack of physician coverage, the obstetrics program at the hospital (ie. medical services for pregnant women) will be closed until July 25.
Rinne said another temporary closure of the obstetrics is expected to occur from Aug. 14-29 due to a lack of physicians.
“We are working to ensure all expecting mothers have the support they need, including having a plan for where they will safely deliver their babies during this time,” she said.
Rinne noted that the Barrhead Healthcare Centre still remains open for any patient needing care and the emergency department is available 24/7.
She said AHS is pursuing recruitment strategies that aim to fill existing vacancies by the end of August or September, if not earlier.
“We are working to address staffing levels at the site — as staff vacancies are filled, beds will be re-opened,” Rinne said.
She added that temporary bed closures occur on occasion over the summer and are only done as a last resort.
“We work to ensure patients continue to receive safe, high-quality care. Any Albertan who is in need of Alberta acute care will get care,” Rinne said.
Barrhead is not the only rural community to experience gaps in health care services this summer, as a number of other hospitals have seen temporary shutdowns of their emergency rooms.
The Boyle Healthcare Centre’s emergency department saw a number of temporary shutdowns throughout June, while the Westlock Health Care Centre was temporarily unable to provide C-sections via its obstetrics program for a portion of May, all of June and the first part of July.
In a technical briefing held on July 23 that was forwarded on to the Barrhead Leader, AHS vice president and chief operating officer Deb Gordon stated that 98.5 per cent of all provincial acute care beds across Alberta are currently open and available to patients.
She pulled up a chart that indicated a total of 89 acute care beds were closed in the North Zone of AHS (which encompasses Barrhead, Westlock and Athabasca, as well as many other communities) and 36 beds were closed in the Central Zone.
She added that temporary closures occur every year as the health care system adjusts to staffing availability and patient need.
“We’ve seen it happen many times over the past 16 months of the pandemic, as AHS opened additional acute care and ICU spaces to ensure we have the ability to care for patients with COVID-19 and other illnesses.”