Due to an email error, a request for comment was not recieved from Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Jennifer Johnson by press time.
In a phone interview Sept. 14, Johnson stated she has met with Ponoka doctors and is aware of the situation. She says she looks forward to working with the ministry to secure physicians for Ponoka in the future and the issue is a top priority.
With several closures of the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre’s emergency department (ED) over the last couple of months, some may be wondering if there’s an end in sight to local physician shortages.
The most recent closure of the Ponoka ED was from the evening on Sept. 6, to the morning of Sept. 7.
“While this is another unfortunate closure of our emergency department we are, sadly, hardly alone or unique in Alberta right now,” said Ponoka family physician Dr. Gregory Sawisky in a statement.
“We are doing what we can to recruit physicians to Ponoka but both B.C. and Saskatchewan have created massive incentives for family doctors to come to those provinces,” said Sawisky.
“Until the Government of Alberta wakes up and realizes they are being out-maneuvered on recruitment and retention then these challenges will continue.”
According to releases issued by Alberta Health Services (AHS), the Ponoka ED closed nine times from July 1 to Sept. 7, due to physician shortages.
AHS did not respond to requests for comments about the recent Ponoka ED closures and local physician shortages.
AHS announced in a press release on Sept. 6, that a new physician is expected to begin practicing in the community this fall, helping to mitigate closures related to gaps in physician coverage.
“Physician recruitment is a priority for AHS and we are actively working to recruit both Canadian and international medical graduates,” stated the release.
New physicians have also recently started practicing in Rimbey and Camrose.
AHS announced last month it’s opening eight new transition beds at the Ponoka hospital.
AHS also announced earlier this summer that Ponoka’s emergency department is now one of a few in central Alberta that has a Child and Adolescent Stabilization Team (CAST).
“Emergency department closures and health care staffing challenges continue to be topics of concern for the Central Alberta Mayors’ group, of which Ponoka Mayor Kevin Ferguson is an active member,” said Town of Ponoka communications manager Sandra Smith.
Smith added there are currently no updates to share about the Central Alberta Mayors (CAM) group.
The group is made up of 17 mayors. In May, CAM released a statement that it would be lobbying the provincial government for changes in how health care is delivered in their communities.
Their common concerns included health care service levels, staffing challenges, EMS shortfalls, health care funding to central Alberta communities and emergency department closures.
In their letter to the minister of health, they said, “Our attempts to collaborate with and inform AHS Central Zone of our communities’ concerns have not resulted in any outcomes.
“With no end in sight nor a clear path forward, we feel the need to address these concerns before they become an unmanageable crisis.”
CAM also previously stated their frustration with the province, claiming decisions affecting rural health care are being made “unilaterally” by AHS and the provincial government.
In a recent release, AHS stated it’s continuing to recruit for physicians across Alberta to meet community needs.
“AHS has physician resource planners who are dedicated to identifying and pursuing international and domestic physician recruitment opportunities,” said AHS.
“They work closely with various community partners and organizations, such as local Health Advisory Councils, the Rural Health Professions Action Plan, and independent physician recruitment and retention committees.”
“(Ponoka physicians) are continuing to do all that we can to keep the emergency department open as much as possible,” said Sawisky.
“If anyone is distressed or upset by this, then I encourage them to contact Minister LaGrange, the new minister of health, directly and express your concerns.”
LaGrange, previously the minister of education, was sworn in as the minister of health on June 9.