Original Published on Jul 14, 2022 at 11:00

By Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Stettler town council heard a report at their July 5 regular council meeting that the recent closure of the Stettler Hospital emergency room (ER) was an isolated incident and will never happen again.

During the council committee reports part of the agenda Mayor Sean Nolls reported on a meeting he and town Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Greg Switenky recently had with central zone representatives of Alberta Health Services (AHS) regarding AHS’ closure of the Stettler Hospital ER on June 9 and an additional day last May.

At a previous council meeting town staff reported AHS notified them the ER would be without a physician for a 24-hour period “due to staffing challenges”.

Mayor Nolls reported the meeting with AHS was productive; the explanation for the ER closure revolved around locum rotation and physician on-call schedules. Nolls stated that AHS told him it boiled down to a timing issue and AHS assured the Town of Stettler the ER closure, “…was never going to happen again.”

Locums are out-of-town physicians who cover hospitals for regular physicians who are unavailable.

Switenky stated he was satisfied by the explanation, but pointed out ER closures typically happen in communities that are coping with a physician shortage, which is not the case in Stettler. He noted the ER closure was said to be just a bad timing issue.

Mayor Nolls stated that during the meeting with AHS the health agency officials explained the Stettler operating room is well used which results in some pressure taken off Red Deer Regional Hospital, a hospital that suffers from well-documented high workloads.

Switenky stated the Town of Stettler would like to resume regular meetings with AHS central zone reps which were held regularly at the Stettler Hospital but which were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He added that it’s assumed the meetings would also include Mayor Nolls, himself, Stettler County Reeve Larry Clarke and Stettler County CAO Yvette Cassidy.

Coun. Gord Lawlor noted he understood staffing pressures but at the same time he was concerned about the health services available to Stettler residents and refused to take a back seat to any other community such as Sylvan Lake.

Councillors accepted the mayor’s report for information.

Housing authority

Mayor Nolls reported on the challenges facing the Stettler Housing Authority’s three senior citizen care facilities; he said the number of vacant units in the three buildings is down to 61 and he was told that there are 12 applications from people interested in moving in currently in the queue.

Nolls pointed out there are plans for all pandemic restrictions to be lifted in the future, and that will be a huge relief to the housing authority as pandemic restrictions were discouraging people from moving into the facilities. 

The mayor pointed out the restrictions, which affect family visits, shopping, recreation and virtually every other activity, essentially cut the senior residents off from the rest of the world.

Coun. Scott Pfeiffer added that he knew the senior citizens were very hard hit by the restrictions.

The mayor stated lifting the restrictions will likely encourage people to move into the facilities.

The personal touch

Mayor Nolls reported that town officials recently met with Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Tyler Shandro face-to-face, and the mayor noted having direct access to the minister to express several concerns over policing was a refreshing change.

Both Nolls and Switenky referred to a previous meeting with provincial officials over policing that they stated seemed to be scripted and offered little way for Stettler to give input.

Nolls stated it was nice to speak frankly and bluntly to the minister to express concerns about escalating police costs which seem very much like downloading of provincial responsibility onto municipal shoulders, similar to the way previous infrastructure decisions were made. 

Nolls noted this has caused the level of trust to deteriorate between Stettler and the provincial government.

Coun. Lawlor asked if the provincial government has given up their campaign for a provincial police force.

Judging by the answers given by both Nolls and Switenky, the provincial government has not given up the provincial police force campaign and it appears Shandro or his peers suggested the federal Liberal government itself is pushing to encourage provincial police forces in order to get the RCMP out of “everyday policing.”

Fire report

Mayor Nolls made a brief report on a recent fire department committee meeting where it was clear the wet weather has had a positive effect on the grass fire situation.

He reported wildfires are down in number; the fire department also reported medical calls are also down in number over last year.

This item reprinted with permission from East Central Alberta Review, Coronation, Alberta