CANMORE – Moms needing to deliver babies have to go to Calgary on weekends for the foreseeable future because Canmore General Hospital’s operating room is closed due to a dire staffing shortage.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) confirmed that the OR closure will be in effect from 4:30 p.m. Friday, Feb.3 until 7 a.m. Monday, Feb. 6 when regular obstetrical services will resume for the week, but local physicians have been told the diversions will continue over the coming few weekends as a solution is sought.
Dr. Brendan Flowers, a Canmore physician and owner of Mountain Maternity and Family Medicine, said all patients are asked to proceed to Foothills Hospital for any of their concerns to ensure patient safety.
“Because of EMS difficulties and shortages, presenting to Canmore hospital first may only delay appropriate care,” he said.
“We do not want this outcome for our patients, and we are sorry that the stresses to the healthcare system have prompted this.”
AHS declined an interview request and questions remained unanswered at press time; however, a statement was emailed.
In that statement, AHS said they are actively pursuing all options to recruit qualified permanent or temporary staff to support the needs of the maternity program at Canmore General Hospital.
“While this temporary diversion is expected to affect very few individuals, expectant mothers potentially impacted will be contacted. We recognize this may be upsetting for patients and families, but it is the right decision for the safety of patients," according to the AHS statement.
“This action is necessary as the service cannot safely operate without qualified maternity staff onsite."
Other services at Canmore General Hospital are not impacted at this time.
Flowers said the diversion plan is effective immediately and hopefully for only the immediate future.
“We are hopeful that solutions can be found over the coming weeks, and when a solution is found, we will notify the community,” he said.
“We want the best for our patients, and we understand that many of our patients specifically choose Mountain Maternity and Canmore Hospital because of our unique atmosphere.”
In the meantime, if there are any OR or OB nurses that are able and willing to help by working on weekends, please reach out to Canmore General Hospital or Mountain Maternity and Family Medicine.
“If there are any OR nurses who are able and willing to help and relocate, either temporarily or longer term, please reach out,” said Flowers.
“We will support you in any way possible, including housing options and community networking supports.”
Neighbouring Minerals Springs Hospital in Banff no longer offers labour and delivery services.
In March 2013, the obstetrics services at Mineral Springs were moved to the hospital in Canmore.
Throughout Canada, nurses have been leaving in droves, exhausted and burnt out from working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has taken a significant health toll on nurses, resulting in many quitting their jobs.
Over the past two years, dozens of hospitals and health centres throughout Alberta have faced temporary closures because of continuing capacity issues, staffing shortages, and high patient volumes.
The Alberta NDP released a statement after publication of this Outlook story.
The party said it is unacceptable that in a town of almost 16,000 people, expectant parents are forced to travel over an hour down the highway – and much more than that for some because Canmore hospital also delivers babies from Banff and Lake Louise – in the winter, no less, because the hospital in Canmore cannot offer services.
NDP Health Critic David Shepherd said Albertans deserve better.
“The UCP’s chaotic mismanagement of health care has left hundreds of thousands of Albertans without a family doctor, urban emergency rooms are overwhelmed, ambulances are delayed longer and longer, and yes, dozens of rural hospitals are partially closed,” he said.
If elected, the NDP says it will make sure families have access to the care they need in their own communities, noting expectant parents deserve care close to home.
"We will bring doctors and nurses back to this province with the largest health-care recruitment campaign Alberta has ever seen," said Shepherd.