Alberta’s government is aiming to close or downgrade 10 rural hospitals in small towns across central Alberta, says a leaked document obtained by Friends of Medicare, a health care advocacy group.

A medical newsletter from Alberta Health Services says hospitals in Ponoka, Lacombe, Innisfail, Consort, Sundre, Three Hills and Hanna will all be turned into “rural urgent care centres.”

The letter, which was addressed on March 31, also says health centres in Castor and Trochu are on the chopping block that is proposed to occur by April 1, 2010.

“These are quite substantial towns in the heartland of Alberta and people deserve to know what the future of their hospital and heath facility is,” said Dave Eggen, an executive director with Friends of Medicare. “If you turn the key and lock the door on a facility, you don’t get any more final than that.”

But Premier Ed Stelmach said the move was a decision that was made by the former Wolf Creek Primary Care Network and it was later turned down by Alberta Health Services after all of the province’s health regions amalgamated into one large superboard.

Surgeons at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital were also told to cancel roughly 15 per cent of its elective surgeries this week and Eggen said all of the moves are all part of a similar plan to change health care across the province.

Alberta Health Services is believed to be facing an estimated half-a-billion in debt, and Eggen said his group has also learned the province will be announcing “significant” budget cuts in July.

“This is a very sensitive topic and it has been in the past and it will be in the future,” said Stelmach.

“Get to the table and tell me how we can sustain this system for your son because he may not enjoy a publicly funded health-care system if we can’t create the wealth to support this one, very good system.”