Time for military support in ‘overwhelmed’ hospitals: Alberta health-care union leaders

EDMONTON –

The leaders of four health-care unions and the Alberta Federation of Labour implored Premier Jason Kenney to submit a formal request for assistance from Ottawa as hospitals grapple with increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients.

The leaders of the health-care unions in the province, representing 100,000 people working in the system, sent a letter Saturday saying it was their assessment that hospitals were no longer on the verge of collapse but that they were “actually collapsing in front of our eyes.”

The presidents of the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) and the Canadian Union of Provincial Employees (CUPE) all signed the letter.

“We are writing today as the presidents of Alberta’s largest health care unions and Alberta’s largest worker advocacy group to urge you in the strongest possible terms to call on the federal government to immediately deploy the military, the Red Cross and all available medical staffing resources from other provinces to assist our province’s overwhelmed hospitals,” the letter read.

As the fourth wave of COVID-19 surges across Alberta, the province has begun to implement extraordinary measures to make room for the daily average of 20 new patients being admitted into the province’s ICUs.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) began sharing and training staff on its critical care triage protocol, outlining how life and death decisions should be made if the province’s health-care system is overwhelmed past its breaking point, this week.

Field hospitals have been prepared in Edmonton and Calgary and surge ICU beds in hospitals, AHS said.

Alberta has 310 ICU beds including 137 surge beds, AHS CEO Dr. Verna Yiu said on Thursday. Eighty-six per cent of those beds are occupied – largely by COVID-19 patients.

The letter was also sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley, the leader of the official opposition.

“There are no more nurses in our province who can be deployed. There are no more paramedics,” the health care union leaders said. “The tank is empty. The well is dry.

“So please, on behalf of our beleaguered members on the front-line of this crisis, and on behalf of all Albertans, we are officially asking you to request help from the federal government.”

Steve Buick, press secretary to the minister of health, told CTV News Edmonton in a statement that no requests for aid from Ottawa or the Red Cross have been made by the province yet.

“The military and Red Cross would have limited ability to provide clinical resources, so no requests have been made to them to date,” Buick said. “If and when their assistance is needed, for example, to provide equipment or logistical support such as patient transport, we’ll support requests as appropriate.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Jay Rosove

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