UPDATE JAN 19 7 PM – AHS has reversed its decision Wednesday evening and the lab will remain open.
Original Editorial Below:
Alberta Health Services (AHS) decision to close lab and diagnostic imaging services in Morinville effective Tuesday, February 1, is outrageous to anyone who has heard the news.
Alberta Health Services issued a short notice (no media release) on Monday, claiming the closure was due to “low patient volumes, challenges recruiting staff, and the lack of functioning X-ray equipment at the site.”
As a news publication is not in the business of employing medical clinic staff, we cannot speak to the “challenges recruiting staff,” but we certainly can on the notion the clinic had low traffic.
If by low patient volumes, AHS means in comparison to a larger and more populated centre like Edmonton, then perhaps. However, from our and community members’ perspectives, the clinic is busy and regularly has wait times for much-needed local medical services.
We reached out to Alberta Precision Labs (APL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alberta Health Services, to get specific numbers on how many lab patients the Morinville Clinic sees each week and what number they deem to be “low patient numbers.” We also asked what criteria kept Gibbons and Redwater open, but Morinville closed.
As of noon Wednesday, no response has been provided; however, another media source has cited APL as stating the Morinville clinic sees 400 people per week. Hardly low numbers, in our opinion.
In a comment on Fort Saskatchewan Online’s coverage, Morinville-St. Albert MLA Dale Nally said, “Unfortunately, the article does not mention that as of Feb 2020, this location has not seen a patient.”
The Minister’s comment is certainly valid for X-Ray patients – but only due to the machine not being fixed or replaced for almost two years.
A coffee shop with a broken coffee machine they refuse to fix or replace cannot honestly claim low coffee sales.
However, the Minister’s comment, which he subsequently corrected [see publisher’s note below], was inaccurate concerning lab services, if 400 patients per week is correct.
Our Monday story on the closure received unanimous contempt for the decision from our readers.
One commenter said they use the lab services multiple times a year.
“Each time, the available appointments have been three to seven days out,” the comment reads. “I am not sure how they can say there are low patient counts when every day is fully booked. The number of available appointments on the web seems to be only a couple every 15 minutes. Has this been set too low? Indeed a step backwards for our community.
The staff at this facility have always been excellent!”
But the contempt and outrage are not exclusive to Morinville and its residents.
Sturgeon County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw, in a Facebook post published on Monday, called the move another blow to folks living in rural areas.
“This is further proof of the erosion of services to rural communities. Those who inhabit rural areas are expected to work to produce food and fuel etc. on precious productive land or in other areas of natural resources or industry, but are not provided the dignity and access to services and health care,” Mayor Hnatiw wrote. “How do we keep attracting a labour force to deliver on what is asked of us if we are relegated to digital dark ages and lack of access to basic healthcare?”
Morinville’s Mayor Simon Boersma also released a statement on his official Facebook page early Wednesday morning.
“I, like many of you, am extremely disappointed with the latest news from Alberta Health Services regarding our medical lab closing in two weeks,” Boersma wrote. “This decision not only affects Morinville but our entire region.”
Boersma went on to say that since learning about the decision, he had shared residents’ concerns with Minister Nally.
“In the next couple of days, I will be reaching out to my regional elected colleagues to discuss this issue and the implications to communities like Alexander First Nation, Sturgeon County, Bon Accord, Legal, and others,” the statement reads. “I have also directed the CAO to add this issue to our January 25 Regular Meeting of Council agenda. Council and I will continue to advocate for our community. I urge you to do the same.”
And residents have done so.
A Change.org petition, launched Tuesday morning by resident Jocelyn Lake, had 4000 signatures by noon on Wednesday.
This decision is a significant slap in the face of a growing community, and the AHS decision should be considered an insult to the MLA, whose office is but a block away.
Sitting in an Edmonton highrise does not afford a good view of Morinville’s situation. While it is easy for AHS or APB bureaucrats to look at a map and regard St. Albert as just a short jaunt for the rural folk to access these services, it fails to acknowledge that many seniors and other community members lack the means to make the commute.
If this government wishes to serve its communities, it needs to consult on decisions affecting residents’ health and wellbeing.
That is the preferred path rather than making decisions in isolation and from 50 kilometres away.
Alberta Health Services and Alberta Precision Labs, it’s not too late to admit that a mistake was made and reverse this decision.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This editorial was updated at 2:15 p.m. Jan. 19 to reflect that Minister Dale Nally has subsequently corrected his online comment. Edit on January 18th, 2022, at 2:00 pm – “I misspoke in the above comment and should have said that this location has not had X-ray services since February 2020. I apologize for any confusion this has caused and continue to advocate on behalf of our community.”