Protesters urge Alberta government to keep fertility services at Lois Hole Hospital

More than 100 people showed up at the Alberta legislature Thursday to protest a recent Alberta Health Services decision to no longer provide fertility services at the Lois Hole Hospital.

'I think the services overall ... will be a better service in the long run,' says AHS zone director

Protesters gathered outside the legislature Thursday to call on Alberta Health Services to reverse its decision to stop providing non-insured fertility services at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women. (CBC)

Dajana Fabjanovich and her husband tried for years to have a baby.

It was a time of heartbreak and stress for the couple, she said.

After going to the fertility clinic at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women, the couple welcomed twin boys last year.

Fabjanovich shared her story at a rally outside the Alberta legislature on Thursday, where more than 100 people showed up to protest a recent Alberta Health Services decision to no longer provide fertility services, such as in vitro fertilization and intrauterine fertilization, at the Lois Hole Hospital.

People looking for those non-insured services will instead have to go to one of two privately funded clinics in the province.

Patients could face longer waits, group says

Fabjanovich, who also speaks for the group United Infertility Edmonton, said that could lead to longer wait times.

"There's no possible way that one clinic can handle an influx of over 3,500 new patients, and I'm concerned that patient care will be compromised because of this," she said.

She's also worried about possible increased costs at a private clinic.

"If you have an influx of thousands of new patients, you're going to think about those profits and perhaps think about raising your prices," she said.

That could lead some people to abandon their dreams of having children, she said.

"For some people, moving over to the private clinic will mean that they will have to stop their fertility treatments because of costs, and cost should not be a barrier to trying to start a family."

Dajana Fabjanovich is concerned costs will rise if people seeking fertility treatment have to go to a private clinic. (CBC)

Infertility should be treated as a medical condition, said Sandra Azocar, executive director of Friends of Medicare.

"These are patients, not consumers," Azocar said in a news release.

She said the province should reverse the decision and instead start paying for in vitro fertilization treatments.

Private clinic can do a better job, AHS says

The Lois Hole Hospital began providing non-insured fertility treatments about 10 years ago, because at the time they were offered nowhere else in Edmonton, said Dr. Curtis Johnston, facility medical advisor for the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

"In that time, we've seen other private clinics provide the same service," said Johnston, who is also associate zone medical director in the Edmonton Zone for Alberta Health Services.

Private clinics, he said, will likely be better able to meet the demand for fertility services and can also provide "enhanced services" that Alberta Health Services can't offer.

"They have the capacity to expand in a different manner than we do within AHS, and can actually provide more resources for this. So I think the services overall ... will be a better service in the long run."

​All the publicly funded services patients receive at the infertility clinic, such as ultrasound and monitoring, will continue to be covered at private clinics, Alberta Health Services told CBC News.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said in a statement Thursday the departure of two physicians from the Lois Hole Hospital fertility clinic has led to uncertainty and stress for many families.

"Alberta Health Services will continue to provide all the same publicly insured services it has done through the Lois Hole clinic, and will assist patients throughout the transition if they wish to move to the private clinic," Hoffman said in the statement.

Hoffman also invited families to meet with her to discuss their concerns.

Future of frozen embryos uncertain

Patients at the clinic are also concerned about what will happen to the frozen embryos they have stored at the clinic, Fabjanovich said.

AHS will no longer keep embryos, eggs or sperm once the Lois Hole clinic stops performing non-insured services.

Patients have been asked to make a decision by Dec. 1 about what they plan to do with those items.

AHS said it will pay to transfer the specimens to a storage facilities chosen by the patients. 

Cost should not be a barrier to starting a family.- Dajana   Fabjanovich

If they're not transferred, they will be destroyed.

Fabjanovich said she still has frozen embryos at the clinic.

She said she got the letter advising her to make a decision about the embryos about two weeks ago.

"That is a very small time frame for people to make a huge, life-changing decision," she said. "It's deplorable they have to make that decision in days."


Nola Keeler is an award-winning journalist who has worked with CBC in Whitehorse, Yukon and Edmonton since 2000. She has worked as a host, reporter, news reader and producer for CBC. Send story ideas to nola.keeler@cbc.ca.