Peace River Community Health Centre will face the extended closure of 11 acute care inpatient beds until at least June 2023.

The beds have been closed since June 13, a result of staff shortages of available nursing staff.

“Peace River Council is concerned about the length of the closure of beds which started last summer and has questions about how this impacts other departments and staff at the hospital,” says Town of Peace River Mayor Elaine Manzer.

“We do not want these bed closures to continue. AHS (Alberta Health Services) has informed stakeholders that AHS continues to search for staff both for the short and long term.”

Information in an email provided to the writer of this article from Alberta Health Service’s senior communication advisor Diana Rinne says that temporarily reducing the number of inpatient beds at a health care facility when staffing levels are low is common practice.

“Recruitment for rural and remote communities has always been a challenge, even before the pandemic,” says Rinne’s email, adding that rural lifestyle isn’t for everyone.

“AHS is always looking for ways to find solutions to recruit, retain, and optimize nursing roles across the province. We are actively recruiting nursing staff using multiple strategies as part of our ongoing efforts to continue to meet the healthcare needs of all Albertans.”

Manzer adds the local physician recruitment team continues to work on the challenges of attracting and retaining healthcare staff.

“Northern hospitals need to remain open and close any of their current programs or treatment possibilities at local hospitals,” says Manzer.

“It is important, that residents of NW Alberta have access to the care they need both in a timely fashion and in a geographically as close to home as possible. AHS is aware of the geographic challenges of our area and some financial incentives have likely helped to attract and retain staff.”

Residents from surrounding regions also utilize the Peace River Community Health Centre for various medical emergencies and procedures that are not offered in their community.

Manzer says many municipalities in the region have started to increase initiatives that have included building and operating clinics, offering housing, and accommodation opportunities. She says she notes they recognize that medical professionals’ families also need to be happy in our area, and they’ve started improving access to recreation, increasing job opportunities and ensuring adequate education is available in the region.

“The Town has supported Shell Rotary House which helps attract locums and residents to our hospital and provides some relief opportunities for some medial staff,” explains Manzer.

“This helps with retention. Northern Lakes College is another avenue that the Province, municipalities, and AHS need to continue to support to provide some medical education programs for some of the medical staff we need in our region.”

AHS says they are working to remove as many barriers as possible for internationally educated nurses to join its workforce and they’ve created Critical Staffing Task Forces in both the Central and North zones to identify staffing shortages, vacancy trends, and issues that may impact staffing. This initiative will also identify and implement creative recruitment and staffing solutions.

“AHS is engaging with the Rural Health Professions Action Plan (RhPAP) to collaborate on attraction and retention strategies for rural communities,” says Rinne’s email.

“AHS nurses working in rural northern Alberta receive financial incentives, including an annual allowance and retention allowance,” she adds.

All emergency and obstetrical services will remain open, including three labour and delivery beds, two beds for cardiac/stroke monitoring, and one palliative care bed. There is no confirmed date for when the acute care beds will be reopened.

By Emily Plihal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 01, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   South Peace News   High Prairie, Alberta

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