Drumheller Health Centre is diverting obstetrical patients between Thursday, May 4 and Tuesday, May 16 due to “ongoing staffing challenges,” according to a letter from Alberta Health Services (AHS).
During this period, obstetrical patients who are in labour will still receive assessment at the emergency department of the Drumheller Health Centre and will then be diverted to another facility for an in-hospital delivery; if it is not safe to transfer a patient, or if delivery is imminent, a physician may travel with the patient by ambulance, or the patient may be transferred to another facility following delivery.
“We recognize that such diversions can be concerning for both patients and our teams,” reads a statement from Alberta Health Services. “This is a necessary measure at this time in the interest of patient safety.”
Dr. Rithesh Ram of Riverside Medical tells the Mail this is not the first time a diversion has taken place, and says it is not for a lack of physicians. He adds the diversion is “horrible” and “very disheartening,” for both patients and physicians.
“Physicians are available to work, this is an operations and scheduling issue (at an AHS level),” Dr. Ram says.
Dr. Laurel Smith, a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist at Drumheller Associated Physicians, also echoed the diversion is not because of physician shortages, but rather due to a lack of obstetrical nursing staff at the hospital.
“We are providing office care and will be available for assessment at the hospital during this diversion,” Dr. Smith said in a statement to the Mail.
While the statement from AHS notes there are about two or three patients who are anticipated to deliver within the two week diversion period, Dr. Smith notes these are only the patients who are due.
She says, in the nature of obstetrics, the true number of patients impacted by the diversion could be much higher, and acknowledges the additional stress and anxiety the diversion can have on both the patient and physician.
Dr. Ram feels the biggest concern is that the Drumheller Health Centre is not on the radar of Alberta Health Services.
Earlier this year, in April, the Alberta government and AHS announced the Alberta Surgical Initiative, which will provide $80 million in funding in the 2023 provincial budget to expand surgical capacity in 15 communities.
However, despite efforts by the Drumheller Standing Committee on Health to advocate the Drumheller Health Centre as a rural healthcare hub, the facility was not included among those communities, and Dr. Ram says this ties directly into the diversion.
Despite the diversion, obstetrical patients who are in labour are encouraged to report to the emergency department at the Drumheller Health Centre where they will be assessed prior to transfer. Currently, patients are being diverted to Stettler or Red Deer for obstetrical care, including high risk and cesarean sections.