Lots happening in health in the Lesser Slave Lake region

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

The Wabasca nursing team won the 2021 RhPAP Rhapsody Health-care Heroes Award.

The “small but mighty team in Wabasca,” won the award for “innovative simulations,” said Dalique van der Nest at the Lesser Slave Lake Health Advisory Council (HAC) meeting on Sept. 13, 2021.

This was just one of many items discussed at the online meeting. It was about Alberta Health Services in Slave Lake, High Prairie, and Wabasca.

Chair Susan Giesbrecht said her claim to fame was having “never chaired a meeting in person.”

In a later interview, Giesbrecht describes HAC. She says “we work in advisory, advocacy.” People with concerns about health care in the area can approach HAC members. They bring those to the meeting.

At the HAC meeting, there were community members, AHS HAC members, AHS administrators, and a representative from RhPAP (Rural Health Professional Action Plan).


The meeting began with a presentation from Wellspring Edmonton, which serves Alberta from Red Deer northern.

Wellspring provides non-medical support to cancer patients and their families, said Angie Rice with Wellspring. Its vision is “a future where no one has to face cancer alone.”

It is a free service, with no referral required. It has individual support, group support, exercise and nutrition, expressive arts, meditation and relaxation, information and coping skills.

To sign up, go to wellspringedmonton.ca

Wellspring is also working on a “sustainable model for delivery of Wellspring programs to communities in northern Alberta,” said Rice. This is focused on rural and remote Alberta. This is a three-year strategy. The first is understanding the community. Wellspring is looking for feedback from community members. Then Wellspring will be looking for pilot communities.

Baby boom

High Prairie is having “a baby boom,” said Lindsay Davis, vice chair. However, the babies can’t be born at the High Prairie hospital, which is a big concern for the community.

In order for hospitals to deliver babies, there have to be doctors with special skills – namely one with surgical or another with anesthesiology.

In 2019, Slave Lake had the same problem. It has since hired both.

Also, prior to COVID expectant mothers were given a tour of the hospital, said Davis. Would it be possible to do a video tour of Slave Lake hospital, so mothers have some idea what to expect?

The video is a good idea, said Cindy Harmata, with AHS.

Babies are still being delivered in Slave Lake, added Harmata. There have been a few short breaks because family physicians with surgical or anesthesiology weren’t available.

Comprehensive child health

Davis works with the Children’s Resource Council which provides services from McLennan to Wabasca, and all communities in between. Part of this is providing virtual prenatal workshops.

Van der Nest said there are some changes coming within AHS to provide more comprehensive health care. This will include rehabilitation (physical therapy etc.), public health, mental health and addictions, and others.

“It’s a continuum of services,” Dalique said.

Slave Lake update

There’s a staffing shortage across Alberta, said Dalique. AHS is actively recruiting.

Slave Lake has nine doctors, which is a full contingent. However, it has only two nurse practitioners (NP) working. There are four hired, but two on sick leave. There’s a casual NP who often works in the winter.

Slave Lake Family Care Clinic (FCC) has had “zero interest in our current vacant positions,” said Johan van der Nest, FCC manager, referring to NP recruitment.

The FCC hours were Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There was talk of extending these to 9 p.m. Walk-ins are allowed.

Susan Giesbrecht – chair of the Lesser Slave Lake Health Advisory Committee.

High Prairie update

In High Prairie, construction was set to start on the dialysis unit. AHS is recruiting doctors. It had five doctors. Also, three new family medicine doctors were hired, but they wouldn’t start for a few months. There were job postings for two family doctors with special skills (surgical or anesthesiology).

Wabasca update

Wabasca had one family doctor and three job postings, Shauna Wallbank, with AHS. There were two doctors hired and two interested. The doctor gaps have been filled by locums and Slave Lake and other physicians.

The AHS North Zone covers the top half of Alberta from south of Jasper, Mayerthorpe and Cold Lake to the border with the Northwest Territories.

Across the North Zone since January 2021, 13 new family doctors and eight new specialists have started work, said Wallbank.

Palliative care

The North Zone has a palliative care team.

The AHS website says, “Palliative care aims to improve the quality of life for patients and families facing the problems associated with a life-limiting and/or life-threatening illness through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification, comprehensive interdisciplinary assessments and appropriate interventions.”

End-of-life-care is closer to death, adds albertahealthservices.ca. This is part of the same process.

The North Zone palliative team has 11 palliative nurses, two nurse practitioners, spiritual health, (one or more) doctors, and other medical providers. It supports local teams. In 2021, it had over 60 referrals a month.

There is also a rural palliative in home funding program. This is based on the home care system, with families provided the money to hire people to provide the care at home.


here’s a series of three workshops on recruiting and retaining health care workers. The first was Sept. 23. The next two are Oct. 28 and Nov. 25 – from 11 to noon. The link is available at events.tamarackcommunity.ca.

These are a collaboration between RhPAP, the Rural Mental Health Network, and the Tamarack Institute.

RhPAP is always interested in people who want to help recruit and retain health care workers in rural Alberta.

The HAC is also looking for new members.

New website

There’s a new website (https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/br/Page17594.aspx) which has temporary bed closures and other faculty status.

The website is “your source of truth,” said Dalique.

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