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'Crisis situation': High River physicians warn of hospital closures as staff shortages get worse

A group of High River doctors says the town's hospital is on the verge of temporary closures as staffing shortages continue.

Thirty physicians say a lack of workers has decimated the community's primary care model and without help, they believe the emergency room and in-patient care facilities are next.

"We foresee that our hospital is going to be closed multiple times next year," Dr. Alex Fay told CTV News.

"We don't have enough physicians."

Fay says the town has lost a quarter of its doctors in the past three years due to retirement, burn-out and relocation outside of the province.

The impacts are noticeable.

"This year, we've had a hard time filling those (hospital staffing) gaps and we've come within hours of having to close our emergency department," he said.

"Oftentimes, waits in our ER can be five hours or more."

Fay says the hospital, which serves almost 15,000 people, could be closed for up to 12 hours at a time in 2024.

It's currently staffed by local family physicians, but even those are hard to come by in the town.

The closest alternative is almost an hour away.

"We are going to be in a crisis situation in no time at all if we don’t start getting this addressed," Mayor Craig Snodgrass said.


Other towns and communities in Alberta have already reached the point of closure.

Dozens of health-care professionals have been quick to blame the governing UCP.

It's no different in High River.

"There's an ongoing strained relationship between physicians and government," Fay said.

"Physicians have not felt heard or respected. And whoever forms government on May 30 is going to need to mend that relationship and regain trust, so we can start attracting new graduating medical residents and graduating medical students to come and train here in Alberta."

Snodgrass believes a turbulent four years scared away potential hires.

"It created a lot of distrust in the medical community when (the government) shredded the doctor contract a few years ago," he said.

"Now, students are just not choosing Alberta to be in. There's a lack of trust there as to what their future looks like, and that needs to get rebuilt.

"You've got a multitude of options, and you're not going to choose a culture that looks hostile."


The UCP says, if re-elected, it would push for expanded primary care hours through new hires.

"Nurse practitioners are trained almost to the level of family doctors, and I think what you'll see in the future is a lot more team practices," Leader Danielle Smith said Thursday.

"One thing that would take the pressure off of hospitals is if doctors would open their practices later into the evening and on weekends."

The NDP has campaigned on a new approach.

The party says it will establish 40 "family health clinics" and hire an additional 4,000 allied health professionals.

"Local health care that you can access with your family doctor absolutely will take the pressure off emergency rooms and urgent cares centres across the province," candidate Joe Ceci said.