December 2, 2023

Closing beds will allow Cold Lake Healthcare Centre staff to “focus on providing quality care to our patients.”

LAKELAND – Healthcare facilities in the Lakeland continue to struggle with staff shortages, with the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre being the most recent hospital to see temporary disruptions. 

On July 25, Alberta Heath Services (AHS) announced that the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre will see five of its 24 acute care impatient beds temporarily closed from July 25 to Sept. 1. The closure could be shortened if staff are found. 

Closing the five beds will allow the hospital to reduce staffing needs and “focus on providing quality care to our patients,” reads a public notice released by AHS, signed by Cindy Harmata, Senior Operating Officer for Areas 5-8. 

“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,” said AHS. 

Occupancy of the inpatient beds at the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre was 79 per cent, as of last week’s announcement. If needed, patients will be transferred to other sites to receive care. 

City of Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland acknowledged that the recent announcement, which came alongside a notice that the Emergency Department at the Cold Lake hospital would see disruptions from July 25 to Aug. 1, was a “tough situation.” 

Copeland noted that he understood the temporary closures were taking place in order to better position staff that are available at the hospital, and keep segments of the health care facility open. It’s a matter of working with the pool of people you have, he noted. 

Speaking to the ongoing health care issues being experienced across the Lakeland, Copeland says Minister of Health Jason Copping was in Cold Lake earlier in July and took time to speak with several municipal representatives who were in attendance. 

The issues are “not unique to Cold Lake,” but there does appear to be a crisis in rural Alberta right now, admits Copeland, adding, he’s been mayor since 2007 and this is the worst it’s been.  

Copeland says the meeting with Copping was a good one. 

“We had a really good discussion with him and his group,” says Copeland. But, there are no doubt frustrations at the municipal level since health care is a provincial responsibility. 

In Cold Lake, it is estimated that about 7,000 people are without a family doctor. Thankfully, there is progress being made, and a number of physicians have been recruited and are expected to join the community over the summer and fall. 

“I think things are going to get better,” says Copeland, adding, “It’s been a rough go.” 

The mayor did make sure to acknowledge the work being done by health care professionals in the community, saying he has full confidence in the staff who are in place, and the staff at the hospital work as a team. 

One item of concern that Copeland says has been brought forward to the provincial government is the fact that the Cold Lake hospital is labelled as a city facility, and not a rural one. This means there is a pay rate difference when trying to attract locums to help fill in the gaps.  

The City has been lobbying the province for quite some time, requesting the rate of pay be changed “drastically.” 

For Copeland and the rest of City council, health care has always been one of the top priorities and will continue to be a priority. But, it is frustrating seeing how much economic activity takes place in the region with the oil and gas industry, and nearby 4 Wing Cold Lake military base.  

The fact that the North Zone within AHS is such a large area is another concern for some municipal officials, which was expressed at the recent meeting with the minister. Copeland says there is a push to create a Northeast Zone, and focus in on the area.  

Surgical and obstetrics have also been impacted in Cold Lake due to a lack of anaesthesia physician coverage, according to AHS. 

Across the region 

Across the region, other disruptions exist at health care facilities. As of July 25, the Bonnyville Health Centre will be reducing some of its services. Service reductions are noted to include a full stop of obstetric care until Sept. 6. 

The temporary reductions in services will also impact non-emergent surgeries. There will also be a reduction of six acute care beds until Sept. 6. 

In St. Paul, 10 of the 42 acute care beds at the hospital have been closed since June 7, 2021, due to staffing shortages.  

According to statistics from AHS, the occupancy in June of 2022 was 106 per cent. In May it was 98 per cent, in April it was 98 per cent, in March it was 100 per cent, and in February it was also 100 per cent.  

An anticipated end date of Sept. 1, 2022, is listed on the AHS website that shows temporary bed and service reductions.  

Obstetric services have also been affected in St. Paul due to a “lack of obstetric trained RN coverage.” 

During the July 25 Town of St. Paul council meeting, Mayor Maureen Miller confirmed she had attended the meeting with Minister Copping in Cold Lake. The day was “very encouraging,” said Miller. 

She also noted that she has heard staff morale at the St. Paul hospital is good, and there is a movement of doctors working together to train one another. On-call doctors have shifted to doing shorter shifts, which offers a better work-life balance, noted Miller. 

She noted that she had also heard that wait times at the St. Paul hospital have been drastically reduced, and with the addition of several doctors to the community, residents can get family doctors in short order.  

In Lac La Biche, eight out of 23 acute care beds have been closed since May 5, 2022. Current occupancy at the hospital for July was listed as 96 per cent. 

Surgical and obstetrics were also affected by a temporary lack of anaesthesia physician coverage.  

The emergency department at the George McDougall Healthcare Centre in Smoky Lake also found itself without physician coverage over the August long weekend.

According to information released on July 28 by AHS, there will be a service disruption from from noon on Friday, July 29 until 8 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2.  

“AHS is working to ensure residents continue to have access to the care they need during this time,” says AHS. Health care facilities in Redwater, St. Paul and Lac La Biche were included in the list of where patients could be sent, if care was required.


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