An Alberta town struggling to get back on its feet after a devastating wildfire last summer was dealt another blow when Slave Lake councillors learned five of its 13 doctors are leaving.
"We're trying to manage a lot obviously with the recovery," said Mayor Karina Pillay-Kinnee. "It's definitely a setback."
Last Monday Pillay-Kinnee learned the doctors are leaving for a variety of reasons, but the fire did play a role in some of the doctors' decisions.
One-third of Slave Lake, including businesses and homes, was destroyed in the fire in mid-May.
Pillay-Kinnee fears the departures will affect access to healthcare, increase waiting times, reduce on-call capacity at the hospital and lead to burnout of the remaining health professionals.
"We're very, very concerned," she said.
Most vexing however is the loss of the town's only anaesthetist.
Pillay-Kinnee is waiting to meet with the remaining physicians and political leaders in the region to look for long-term and short-term solutions.
"We're going to have to identify what challenges that poses," she said. "It's definitely a concern for the whole community."
Health Minister Fred Horne told the legislature Tuesday help will be made available for Slave Lake until the problem is resolved.
"The Alberta Medical Association has assisted us in arranging coverage for the emergency department at the hospital," he said.
Pillay-Kinnee also points out the Slave Lake recovery plan allocated $2 million for health services.
"Recruitment will definitely be top priority," she said. "Health services are essential for this area and we do serve a large trading area, so it's not just Slave Lake."