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Rally opposes discontinuation of uninsured fertility services at Edmonton hospital

Protesters call for fertility services to be brought back to Royal Alexandra Hospital
WATCH ABOVE: Over 100 people attended a rally at the Alberta legislature on Thursday to call on the health minister to help bring back some fertility services at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. Fletcher Kent reports.

A rally took place Thursday at the Alberta legislature, to protest a decision by Alberta Health Services (AHS) to discontinue non-insured fertility services at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women in Edmonton.

Those at the rally were concerned the changes at the Lois Hole Hospital will lead to longer wait times and higher costs to receive fertility services. Patients also expressed fear that those who’d already begun the process would have to start all over again with a new team at a new site.

“I’m hoping that they can make change… It’s not OK to just slap this on us,” Raeleen Eichhorn said. “I found out via Facebook. They didn’t even send me out a memo or anything. To find out on social media is heartbreaking.”

READ MORE: Edmonton’s Lois Hole Hospital for Women to stop offering IUI, IVF fertility services

In November, AHS announced that as of February 2018, the Lois Hole Hospital would no longer provide non-insured fertility services such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF).

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The Regional Fertility and Women’s Endocrine Clinic at the hospital will also discontinue donor egg and sperm programs. The clinic will remain open and continue to offer insured services to patients, such as cancer screening and high-risk pregnancy care.

READ MORE: Edmonton couple embraces heartbreaking infertility by losing 200 pounds

About 100 people showed up for the rally at the legislature, which started at noon. About an hour before the rally was set to begin, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman issued a statement about fertility access.

“Alberta families are always foremost in my mind,” Hoffman said, adding the departure of two physicians from the Lois Hole clinic to join Edmonton’s only other fertility facility — the privately run Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine — 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.

“Some of the affected families will be speaking at the legislature today. Earlier this week, I invited them to meet with me and discuss what the way forward could look like. I will be meeting with some of them in the coming days and my door will always be open.”

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Watch: Thousands of Albertans who use fertility services want the provincial government to reverse a decision to stop offering uninsured procedures at an Edmonton hospital.

Albertans rally against fertility service changes
Albertans rally against fertility service changes

One in six Alberta couples struggles with fertility issues, and the clinic in Edmonton looked after patients from across northern Alberta.

News of the changes at the clinic sparked a public outcry, not only from hundreds of patients left wondering what would happen to them but also from one of the physicians who worked at the highly specialized facility.

Reproductive endocrinology specialist Dr. Tarek Motan called the closure a “tragedy of all tragedies” and said he doesn’t think AHS and the government “actually understands how important families are to Albertans.”

Watch: An Edmonton doctor who works at one of Alberta’s few public fertility clinic said the cancellation of services like in vitro and intrauterine insemination will cause patients to suffer. Su-Ling Goh reports.

More reaction to fertility services at Royal Alexandra Hospital coming to an end
More reaction to fertility services at Royal Alexandra Hospital coming to an end

Friends of Medicare and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees also spoke out against the decision.

AHS said it is a publicly funded health-care organization that must focus on publicly funded services.

A petition pushing to keep the fertility services grew quickly. In the three weeks since it launched, the petition has been signed nearly 25,000 times as of Thursday morning.

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People rally at the Alberta legislature Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017 to protest changes to fertility services at Edmonton's Lois Hole Hospital for Women.
People rally at the Alberta legislature Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017 to protest changes to fertility services at Edmonton's Lois Hole Hospital for Women. Dave Carels, Global News
People rally at the Alberta legislature Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017 to protest changes to fertility services at Edmonton's Lois Hole Hospital for Women.
People rally at the Alberta legislature Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017 to protest changes to fertility services at Edmonton's Lois Hole Hospital for Women. Dave Carels, Global News

With files from Caley Ramsay, Global News.