Uncertainty over the current situation and possible future of the Swan Hills Healthcare Centre (SHHC) has cast a shadow over the usual summer delights and relaxations in Swan Hills. As of the publication of this article on Aug. 10, it will have been 62 days since 24-hour care has been available at our local hospital.
On Jun. 9, Alberta Health Services (AHS) announced that it was temporarily changing the hours of service at the SHHC from offering 24-hour care to new operating hours of 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM and closing overnight. This change of service hours was explained as being due to a lack of registered nursing staff and an inability to find temporary coverage and was projected to last until Jul. 9. In-patient admissions were placed on hold, with the exception of two designated supportive living beds that could be opened if the staffing became available to support them. The SHHC’s medical detox program was also paused at this time.
On Jul. 7, AHS announced that the temporary change of service would be extended to Aug. 9. As of Aug. 5, the service change has been extended again, this time until Aug. 31. Aug. 31 will mark 83 days without 24-hour care in Swan Hills. To say that the ongoing lack of a clear and reliable date for AHS to resume regular operating hours at the SHHC has caused concern in the Swan Hills community would be a severe understatement. The multiple extensions of this temporary situation have brought about apprehension for some that this may turn into a permanent problem.
The Swan Hills Health Board has been in constant contact with the site manager for the SHHC, Sherri-May Hotchkiss, as this situation has unfolded but has not received definitive information about when the hospital might fully reopen. Mayor Craig Wilson has also been working to ensure that the Town’s concerns are heard and to attempt to find a resolution to the situation with letters, phone calls, and meetings with provincial officials and representatives from AHS. Mayor Wilson, Councillor Liz Krawiec, and Councillor Jeff Goebel had met with MLA Glenn van Dijken and Minister of Health Jason Copping at an engagement session in Slave Lake on Jul. 26. Representatives from Wabasca, High Prairie, the MD of Opportunity, and other municipalities also attended the engagement session, voicing similar concerns for their own communities.
Marion DeJong, a long-time resident of Swan Hills, started a petition out of concern for the circumstances at the SHHC, collecting over 430 signatures of like-minded individuals who are also troubled by this situation.
Town Council reached out to AHS, asking for an information session for the residents of Swan Hills to update the community on the current situation at the SHHC and what is being done to address the problem. AHS has recently agreed to this request.
Swan Hills residents are invited to a Community Forum with representatives from AHS on Wednesday, Aug. 17, at 6:00 PM at the Keyano Centre. All residents are invited and encouraged to attend.
Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grizzly Gazette