By Erika Mathieu
Alberta Health Services (AHS) has announced the permanent closure of Piyami Health Centre’s ambulatory clinic in Picture Butte effective Oct. 15, 2023.
A statement issued by AHS indicated the closure of the clinic will not affect other AHS services at that location such as laboratory services and diagnostic imaging, and that the ambulatory clinic, “is only a portion of the overall facility, which also includes seniors housing, supportive living, home care, allied health and public health.”
AHS’s contract with a local physician who manages, operates and hires staff for the clinic is coming to an end, and with its impending closure, AHS says they are, “working to recruit two physicians to the community to support primary care in the area.”
Director of Emergency Services at the Town of Picture Butte, Frank West said the Town was not aware of the impending closure until AHS issued a press release on Aug. 10.
“When AHS makes these decisions, whether it’s in Picture Butte, or any other community, when they make the decision to remove or close a service of any kind, it’s going to have a negative impact on the community,” West said.
“Now with the decision to close and remove that (ambulatory clinic) from our community, I think it’s going to definitely have a negative impact on the residents and the citizens of the Town of Picture Butte, but also the large surrounding area, that the Town services.”
According to the 2021-22 AHS annual report, Ambulatory Care Sensitive Condition Hospitalization Rates “deteriorated” in the South Zone in 2021-22 compared to the previous year. The figure represents the hospitalization rate of Alberta residents for conditions where appropriate ambulatory care could potentially prevent or reduce the need for admission to hospital. “The lower the rate the better, as it demonstrates effective primary care and community-based management of these conditions,” reads the document.
As the Chinook Regional Hospital emergency room faces capacity challenges, West said, “the impact of the closure of our ambulatory care clinic, and what we are seeing across southern Alberta with temporary closures of small health centre emergency departments, is going to negatively impact and be counterproductive towards AHS’s own goal,” in reducing ER wait times.
“This is going to have a compounding effect on our regional emergency department at the Chinook Regional Hospital. When we close down these small town clinics and emergency departments it forces our citizens to access services in Lethbridge. It’s going to have a compounding effect.”
“The emergency department at Chinook Regional Hospital has been operating over capacity for a long time now, and I think this is going to further exacerbate that issue there.”
On the potential impact of the closure of the Picture Butte ambulatory clinic, MLA for Cardston-Siksika, Joseph Schow said he does not anticipate the closure will have ramifications for the Chinook Regional Hospital emergency room and said the ambulatory clinic in Picture Butte is, “very well known was that it was not for severe injuries and severe cases. People in Picture Butte understand this is not becoming (a) thing to go to for major medical emergencies and so those (severe) issues are already being directed to Lethbridge.”
Schow said the closure of the clinic means funding previously spent on operating the clinic will be reallocated toward recruiting physicians to serve the town and surrounding area.
“I have spoken to AHS officials, and I’ve been assured that the money that was going to support this clinic, will go to recruiting new physicians to make sure that rural Albertans have access to that care they need (…) that’s what this really comes down to,” Schow said. He added, according to AHS the clinic sees “three to four patients per day on average.”
West said AHS did not offer additional explanation beyond what is contained in the press release, or gave the Town notice that the ambulatory clinic closure was being discussed.
“We’ve had zero consultation, or forewarning of this decision. We found out the same as everyone else, through the public announcement.”
West praised clinic staff at the ambulatory clinic in Picture Butte and reiterated his disappointment in AHS’s decision.
“We’ve long worked side by side with the staff there and my heart goes out to them and the staff there that are losing their jobs and I know they’ve done nothing but their due diligence to serve the community for the last 15 years.”
AHS’s statement indicated there would be “a community engagement session” scheduled for mid-September in the community, but West questioned the degree to which the community’s feedback will be taken into account.
“To me, it is a little bit counter-productive. Usually we like to do community engagement and get the community’s feedback on decisions before decisions are made. So, I think that the community engagement is more of an opportunity to try and save face a little bit because obviously they’re not interested in the community’s input in the decision if the engagement session is coming after the decision’s already been made,” West said.
The upcoming public consultation is intended to clarify the circumstances surrounding AHS’s decision to close the ambulatory clinic, as well as a “listening opportunity to make sure that the residents are being heard,” Schow said.
“The people in the town need to understand what is actually happening. There’s a ton of rumours going around,” and added, “this is not something that should be politicized, this is something to make sure that we have access to good health care in Picture Butte.”
AHS’s statement indicated that details on the public engagement session in Picture Butte will be made available once finalized.
To access data cited on ACSC hospitalization rates, visit
https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/assets/about/publications/ahs-pub-pr-definitions.pdf and https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/assets/about/publications/ahs-pub-pr-2021-22-q4-supplemental-information.pdf.