BANFF – A memo sent to Banff Mineral Springs Hospital staff and physicians in October indicated that the health facility would be cutting 10 acute-care beds in November.
The Oct. 30 memo, obtained by the Rocky Mountain Outlook through a Freedom of Information request, confirmed the Covenant Health hospital was removing 10 beds from its acute care department and using them as post-operating recovery beds.
“Starting Nov. 12, 2019, the in-patient beds on acute care will be decrease[d] to 12 … We will be increasing our day surgery beds to 10," stated the memo. “This is to align with our funding, best practice and our actual numbers of patients we are serving. This will have no impact to our overall staffing of the unit.”
Sheli Murphy, Covenant Health rural health senior operating officer, said that there would be no impact on the services offered by the hospital. She added the memo was a formality and reflects a change to how health care is being delivered in the community that has already been in effect at the hospital for several years.
“What we’ve really done has just formalized on paper the appropriate number of beds we require,” Murphy said. “It really hasn’t changed other services, it hasn’t changed any of the staffing … We’re not taking them out permanently – there are efficiencies to be gained from it.”
She said that Covenant Health worked closely with its Canmore Hospital and Alberta Health Services partners to ensure that there were no drawbacks for any facility if the acute bed numbers were reduced.
“This has kind of been a sticking point – it really should have been dealt with a number of years ago," she said.
An executive meeting was held before Christmas to inform Alberta Health Services about the changes to the acute care bed numbers at Mineral Springs Hospital.
“The key messages here is that we are just working in the beds that we have been working in for the last several years, probably about five years, considering the occupancy we have had at that site,” Murphy said.
She said occupancy at the hospital has dropped over the last several years based on the best practices that are being employed, changes in day-surgery offerings and relocating obstetrical care (maternity) to Canmore.
“Those things happened a number of years ago and we just never caught up with the paperwork,” Murphy said. “We’re creating more efficiencies in the system – we’re always reviewing when it comes to quality when it comes to the effectiveness of our care and services, we’re always looking at how we can do that and represent the reality of what we are."
The memo released in October came after a final analysis was completed and steps were taken to ensure services were not affected, Murphy said, adding that the appropriate people were informed before the memo’s release.
“We’re always evolving this as part of our quality cycle and our total quality improvement within the health system,” Murphy said. “We’re always wanting to review what’s going on today, what are we doing, what can we do better, how can we do better.
"It saves resources, it saves times, it improves the health and quality of those we serve.”
Friends of Medicare executive director Sandra Azocar said the organization was unaware of the changes to the acute care bed at Banff's Mineral Springs Hospital before speaking with the Outlook.
“These decisions are made in a counter-intuitive way. Banff has seen an increase in the population," Azocar said.
The town has the youngest population in Alberta (18-34), and while these demographics do not necessarily access the hospital at the same rate as older populations, Azocar said there is still a need to ensure they can access the hospital with ease in case of an emergency.
“When you do go to the hospital it is because you need emergency care that might result in you needing an acute care bed,” Azocar said. “That’s one of the issues that we see in making those decisions – [they’re] not looking at the population's needs.”
These practices are not a "normal way" for a hospital to operate, she said, adding that issues with Mineral Springs go back to 2013 when the maternity beds were closed and turned into surgical beds, forcing expectant mothers in the community to travel to Canmore Hospital to deliver.
“The community was basically left without maternity services. It’s very much a negative trend that we have seen in rural Alberta for decades now where there’s a decrease in health care availability,” Azocar said. “People are often having to travel to receive basic care.”
When the maternity beds were closed, Banff Plastic Surgery, Alpine Medical Clinic and Banff Sports Medicine were able to increase their access at the hospital to perform surgeries.
“We have concerns about the misuse of public resources,” Azocar said, raising questions about for-profit companies using public infrastructure when a section of the population is waiting for essential surgeries.
“These are people that are in pain,” Azocar said. “It’s a criminal misuse of public resources, especially when there are tons of people that are waiting in pain.”
Azocar added that she questioned the governance of the hospital and allocation of resources because she worries that the loss of acute care beds at Banff Mineral Springs could be an indicator of the health care system in the province as a whole.
“Our public system is not there to subsidize other interests, it’s there for the public good,” Azocar said, “We are concerned about the direction that this government is taking when it comes to addressing the wait times and the openness they have had in respect to bringing in private for-profit companies – rather than focussing on expanding and improving our health care.”
A spokesperson with Alberta Health Services provided a statement to the Outlook in regards to the acute-care bed changes.
“AHS was made aware of changes to bed allocation at the Banff Mineral Springs Hospital. There has been no impact on services at Canmore General Hospital resulting from the changes,” read the statement.
AHS did not confirm when it was originally made aware of the changes.