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Elk Point mayor optimistic as two acute care beds open

Collective effort to recruit nursing staff

Feb 26, 2013 10:00 am | Clare Gauvreau

Mayor Parrish Tung announced last week that ongoing negotiations with Alberta Health Services (AHS) has resulted in the re-opening of two of the 12 available acute care beds at the Elk Point Health Centre.

Tung said “a collective effort from our hospital staff” is the reason behind the two beds now being open. Describing it as good news for the community, Tung said hopefully the level of concern regarding the future of the local health centre will “calm down a bit.”

Some confusion earlier this month resulted in a premature announcement that two acute care beds had opened during the first week of February. In fact, AHS had authorized the opening of two observation beds that would allow local doctors to place patients in the beds for a 12-hour period only for observation. If hospitalization was required, they were to send them to other facilities for treatment.

Nursing shortages at the facility led to the closing of all acute care beds in late November. The staff shortage also temporarily impacted emergency services with the emergency room only operating during the day shift during the Christmas week. Emergency services have since returned to full 24-hour availability.

“We are doing the best we can to handle a difficult situation,” the mayor said of the ongoing staff shortage, adding it is imperative a collective effort be made to recruit staff for the facility. He is optimistic more acute care beds will open within the next two months.

“It’s an indication we are moving in the right direction in the short-term but in the long-term the community is working very diligently in the recruitment (of staff),” MLA Shayne Saskiw said, noting both the Town of Elk Point and County of St. Paul have made a commitment to provide incentives for the recruitment of nurses.

“The shortage of nurses has been an ongoing issue. We feel that as of now that the acute care beds should be re-opened and if there is any type of short-term shortages, Alberta Health Services should provide contract nurses to fill those gaps until long-term solutions are found which, of course, is recruiting nurses there.”

Saskiw said nursing shortages are not unique to Elk Point, saying it is an issue across northern Alberta.

“It is absolutely critical that the Elk Point hospital operate at full capacity,” he said. “This area is set to boom with the oil and gas industry and, frankly, any type of closure of acute care beds will simply pass the buck on to either Bonnyville or the St. Paul hospitals and they are already at well over capacity. So it’s not only important to Elk Point but it’s important to this whole northern region.”

On Feb. 12, Bonnyville Town Council voted unanimously to provide a letter of support to the Town of Elk Point after council was presented with a letter from the Elk Point mayor.

Tung asked for Bonnyville’s support to keep Elk Point’s health centre fully operational.

“The northeast area petroleum industrial is continuing to grow and with the projects that have recently been announced for the next few years, the demand for medical services will continue to rise,” Tung wrote in his request for support to Bonnyville council.

“I think between the Town and some residents and the MLA they put on enough pressure that the situation seems to be reversing,” Bonnyville Mayor Ernie Isley told his council. He stressed the importance of neighbouring communities being able to maintain their hospitals. “The way growth is going on here, our hospital is getting backed up and our emergency is very, very busy and our acute care very often doesn’t have beds.”

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