The Elk Point Hospital is in a coverage situation until another doctor can be recruited to the town on a permanent basis according to Elk Point Mayor Lorne Young.
Because of a gap in physician availability, the Elk Point Emergency Room was closed for 24-hours from Jan. 28 through Jan. 29.
There is currently only one physician in Elk Point providing emergency care following the decision of Dr. Oyebode to relocate elsewhere in the province at the end of December, and Dr. Drew Ramful’s plans to retire as soon as a new doctor arrives in the spring.
According to the news release from AHS, EMS is being re-routed to the St. Paul Hospital while nursing staff remain on-site in Elk Point to triage and refer patients to other community hospitals.
“Our local doctor here absolutely cannot service the emergency room needs, 24 hours a day seven days a week. It’s just not humanly possible,” said Young.
He said Alberta Health Services has been filling the coverage gaps of the Elk Point ER through the use of locums for about a month now.
“We’re going to be in coverage mode for a while and I don’t know how long a while is. And throughout that process there’s always the danger that they might have to do this again. We certainly hope not. But, it’s one of those things that if it happens once, it could happen again,” said Young.
He noted Alberta Health Services has been responsive and is clearly working hard on the issue. There are currently 58 full-time doctor jobs available in the AHS North Zone including four each in Bonnyville and St. Paul, three in Cold Lake, two in Lac La Biche and one in Elk Point.
“They know we need absolutely need at least one and preferably two other physicians to create a better working situation here,” said Young.
Asked how AHS had handled communication about the issue, Young said they had done well to communicate the 24-hour closure to emergency services, call centers, town council, and other hospitals in the region where patients needing emergency care are being diverted to.
“Even as far as we were requested to go put a cover on the hospital sign on the highway for a 24 hour period,” said Young.
Also significantly impacted by the closure is Frog Lake Cree Nation, which is about a half hour drive from Elk Point, and Fishing Lake Metis Settlement, which is about an hour’s drive.
When asked about the impact of the closure on his community, Fishing Lake Metis Settlement council member Wayne Daniels said the Settlement is roughly equal driving distance from Elk Point, Bonnyville, and Cold Lake and so their membership sometimes gets medical services from those other communities as well.
“We’re definitely supportive of doctors in our area. We try to support all of our areas because it gives us the flexibility of care when the need arises,” said Daniels.
He said he’d like to know more about when the replacement doctors can be expected “because it’s obviously affecting service. And when service affects our members it ultimately concerns as a council to keep that service there.”
Lakeland Connect reached out to Alberta Health Services for further details and information by phone and e-mail multiple times on Jan. 28. AHS did not respond.