‘We’ve never seen anything like this’: Alberta heath-care workers worry about cuts to services

EDMONTON — Concern over staff shortages and cuts to primary health care in Alberta continues to mount following service reductions at multiple rural and large urban hospitals across the province.

“We knew coming out of Stage 3 and coming into the easing of restrictions, we’re still going to have pressures with staffing throughout the province this summer,” Tyler Shandro, Alberta’s health minister, said to media on Monday.

Last week, 12 beds were closed down at Lacombe’s only hospital adding to a recent trend of downsizing across health care facilities.

One of Edmonton’s largest hospitals, the Royal Alexandra, lost six beds in their emergency room department this month.

“We’ve never seen anything like this, where there are consistently six beds closed 24/7 for an entire summer,” Shazma Mithani, an emergency doctor at the Royal Alexander and the Stollery Children’s Hospital, said.

“The emergency room still remains open,” Shandro added. “People who need emergency care can and should continue to go to the Royal Alex. The folks there are still able to continue to get the critical care they need.”

‘WE’RE WORKING AT BASICALLY HALF CAPACITY’

In a media presser on Tuesday, David Shepherd, the health critic for the NDP, said there needs to be an action plan in place to stop further closures and reopen the beds.

“Alberta’s frontline heroes are burned out,” he said.

“If the minister expected it you would think he would have done something about it. Instead he’s left it to those on the frontline to deal with his inaction.”

Mithani told CTV News Edmonton this decision directly affects their ability to care for patients in the emergency department in the most effective and timely way possible, inevitably leading to longer wait times.

“As you start to lose staff the amount of work that is left behind for the people who are still working in the emergency department increases,” she said.

“I think I would be lying if I’d say there aren’t cases in which the quality of care suffers because there aren’t enough people to offer it,” Parker Vandermeer, a rural Alberta doctor, added.

“We’re working at basically half capacity.”

‘PEOPLE WANT TO WORK WHERE THEY’RE VALUED’

Mithani described burnout in health care as a moral injury. She told to CTV News this last year has been one of the most trying years of her career.

“To see people who are so sick every single day it affects you,” she explained. “It affects you profoundly at a mental level, at a physical level, and at an emotional level.”

“We’re used to trying to help people get better and this last year unfortunately has been the opposite of that,” she continued.

“It’s hard to even find solace and joy in the simple things in your home life because you’ve been carrying the weight of what’s happening on shift at work into the rest of your life as well. It’s a devastating place to be in.”

Both Mithani and Vandermeer said in the last year but specifically in recent months a number of nurses and physicians have left to pursue areas of medicine that are slower paced or they’ve left the province altogether.

“I don’t know if I would expect any different from my friends and colleagues, why would they stay around and take that sort of treatment if there are other options available,” Mithani said.

“People want to work where they’re valued and respected and Alberta is not the current spot for that,” Vandermeer added.

‘WE’RE GOING TO FOCUS ON THOSE ISSUES’

During a press conference in Calgary, Premier Jason Kenney told reporters they’ve increased the provincial budget by $900 million for physician recruitment and retention.

“We have more doctors working in Alberta now than we ever had in our history,” he said.

“We’re going to focus on those issues,” Shandro said. “The budget has not been cut, its not going to be cut.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Ryan Harding

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