Dr. Gregory Sawisky. (File photo)

Dr. Gregory Sawisky. (File photo)

Ponoka emergency department has near-miss with temporary closure

Ponoka doctor: ‘It is likely that pressure on the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre will continue”

Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre’s emergency department was close to having to close for a day recently, but was spared when Alberta Health Services (AHS) was able to find last-minute physician coverage.

AHS had advised in a media release on Feb. 25, that the Ponoka emergency department would be closed the following day. However, they sent an update a few hours later, confirming they had secured “last minute physician coverage.”

“There was a moment where, due to physician illness, we were having to make contingency plans for temporarily closing the emergency department,” said Ponoka physician Dr. Gregory Sawisky.

”Fortunately, a physician agreed to work a long shift which prevented that from happening,” said Sawisky.

There has been a shortage of physicians in Ponoka for the last couple of years as the Battle River Medical Clinic struggles with recruitment and retainment — an issue Sawisky says has been exacerbated by UCP policies and health care cuts.

“While we have been able to bring some new physicians to Ponoka, not all doctors work in the emergency department. Given we are the third-busiest emergency department in the zone with a fraction of the staff that Wetaskiwin or Red Deer have, it is likely that pressure on the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre will continue until such time as the UCP strikes a new relationship with physicians,” he said.

“While those talks are on-going, the damage done from the government’s initial approach to health care in this province will take time to fix.”

AHS had stated closing the emergency department would have been a temporary measure, taken as a “last resort.”

AHS advised patients requiring medical care during the temporary closure would have been referred to emergency departments in surrounding communities as needed, such as Wetaskiwin, Lacombe and Rimbey. Inpatient units would not have been affected by the closure.

The Government of Alberta announced a $300 million investment over three years to expand health-care capacity as part of its 2022 budget.

AHS says the new ICU beds will be distributed across all AHS zones. Location details are currently being developed.

AHS reminds Albertans to call Health Link at 811 for non-emergency, health-related questions.