Use of the operating room at Altona's hospital is being phased out.

"I don't know exactly when the last surgery has been booked, we don't know that or the details of that, but we were led to believe at a meeting some time back that this was going to be happening," explained Clinic board co-chair Don Wiebe. "There's one doctor that was booking the room for various kinds of surgeries and that will no longer be happening."

He said that a number of factors led to this move, one being the sterilization of equipment, a process that had been fully moved over to the Boundary Trails Health Centre.

Meantime, efforts are ongoing to fill a temporary physician vacancy at the Altona Clinic this fall. Dr. Tahseen Mahdi will begin a four-month suspension in September, reducing the local doctor contingent to three for the time-being.

Wiebe said filling this void is all about using the resources that are available in the region, and noted that it is the Board's opinion that consistency of service is important to the community.

"We were assured that they have a few irons in the fire. They weren't able to tell us exactly what would happen but the Clinic Manager was optimistic that we would be able to have enough complement of doctors to carry forward in this suspension."

He added that local health officials are looking to develop a long term strategy for the hospital and clinic and a planning session is set to happen this fall.

"We'll be sitting down with the Board and physicians and attempt to get an understanding of how we can move forward strategically and try to find a way to make the clinic services and the ER - to stabilize all that."

Wiebe pointed to the pending retirement of Dr. Bueddefeld at the end of the year and said that there needs to be at least four physicians working in the community in order to maintain levels of service.