As hospitals in rural Alberta grapple with COVID-19 outbreaks, some have been forced to stop patient admissions and divert obstetrical patients elsewhere.
Rocky Mountain House Health Centre has paused acute care admissions, and obstetrical patients are being diverted to Red Deer's hospital due to an outbreak that infected 17 patients and 16 staff, an AHS spokesperson said.
Two other sites in central Alberta are also making changes to admissions as a result of COVID-19. Three Hills Health Centre is temporarily diverting obstetrical patients, and admissions to acute care at Two Hills Health Centre have been paused.
Dr. Thara Kumar, medical officer of health for the central zone of Alberta, says outbreaks are a huge challenge for hospital staff, who are already dealing with a burden of additional work brought on by the pandemic.
"Their staff are working overtime already. And so when individuals are sick, the remaining staff are working more and having to put in more overtime, and that's very challenging for a site," she said.
"Every type of care is being impacted by these outbreaks and by the high rates of COVID admissions that are still being required," she said.
The Rocky Mountain House region has one of the lowest immunization rates in the central zone, with about 60 per cent of eligible individuals fully vaccinated, AHS says. Those between the ages of 12 and 29 are just 40 per cent fully vaccinated.
Nicole Matheson, registered midwife at West Country Midwives in Rocky Mountain House, says there are always concerns about adding time and distance for obstetrical patients, but in emergency situations the hospital can still be accessed.
Matheson said a lot of her clients are now choosing out-of-hospital births. She says normally that figure is around 25 per cent, but now it's between 80 to 90 per cent as many are concerned about COVID-19 exposure in hospital.
"I think that just people are feeling more comfortable staying home," she said.
Rocky Mountain House Mayor Debbie Baich issued a statement to assure residents that the emergency department is still open.
"Citizens will continue to receive emergency assessment and care in our community, and I know the health-care professionals are doing their very best to see us through this latest pandemic challenge."