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Alberta NDP raises concerns about ERs, primary care funding in rural hospitals

The High River General Hospital's emergency room could face potential closures, the NDP says. (Supplied/Google Maps) The High River General Hospital's emergency room could face potential closures, the NDP says. (Supplied/Google Maps)

Alberta's NDP says the only hospital in a town south of Calgary faces potential closures in its emergency department because the United Conservative Party has not supported it.

David Shepherd, an NDP candidate in Edmonton who is the Opposition health critic, held a news conference in front of the hospital in High River, Alta., a town of more than 14,000 people about 65 kilometres south of Calgary.

He pointed to a recent letter to the local newspaper by 30 physicians in the town that noted there's a shortage of family doctors to cover hospital shifts and one obstetrician to provide care for pregnant women.

The doctors say in the letter that rural primary care has been inadequately funded in recent years.

Shepherd says an NDP government would properly fund hospitals across the province if elected on May 29.

UCP Leader Danielle Smith said last week that the Alberta Health Services administrator is looking at ways to ease pressure in hospitals and added that there's a $2-billion investment into primary care in this year's provincial budget.

AHS said in a statement that ensuring Albertans have access to health care in their community is of utmost importance and it values the work of physicians and health-care teams.

"The High River General Hospital remains open, offering full services including emergency care, day and night," said the statement Monday.

"Like other hospitals in the province, High River experiences situations where physicians and staff coverage can be challenging. This happens for a number of reasons, including illness and time off. The site works hard to ensure no disruption of service occurs."

It said recruitment challenges, particularly for physicians outside of urban areas, are not unique to Alberta and that it is working on recruitment and retention strategies.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2023.