Health care staff are urging the province to take action as Edmonton hospitals moved patients into hallways amid what Alberta Health Services called a long-weekend induced “high demand for acute care services.”
According to AHS, facilities in the Edmonton health zone enacted “short-term” surge protocols late Tuesday to promote “patient flow” and “manage the high number of admitted patients waiting” in emergency departments.
As of Thursday afternoon, AHS says hallway care is no longer required as capacity requirements have returned to normal.
“Units are no longer being asked to proactively take an additional patient, though this practice may be in place on certain sites and units as part of normal surge capacity protocols,” said James Wood, AHS spokesperson, in a statement to CTV News.
“Thank you to the teams throughout the zone for their tireless work to support the current patient demand.”
A ‘COMMON’ SURGE
Wood called it “common” to see a surge of patients after a summer long weekend but noted Alberta’s capital city hospitals are already managing high patient volumes, including an increased number who require isolation and inpatient units on outbreak status.
During the surge period, AHS instructed acute care staff have been directed to review all patient cases to see which could be moved to their home health zone and if any continuing-care residents could return to their long-term care or supportive living home.
They were also directed to reduce emergency inpatient volume. That was being done by having units accommodate one patient per unit above census for another 24 to 36 hours “while other strategies are being carried out.”
“This may mean having one patient bed in a hallway,” Wood confirmed, adding that was not the “preferred method” for providing care but was “currently necessary to ensure that all patients receive the care they need.”
‘THIS ISN’T NEW’
Some health care workers say these types of protocols are not new to the province, but the timing is creating additional apprehension, with August and July typically being slower intake months.
“I am very concerned we are discussing this in August,” said Dr. Paul Parks, Alberta Medical Association section president for emergency medicine.
“Typically, July and August are our best months for flow and capacity,” he told CTV News Edmonton. “So the fact that we are talking about adding additional disaster mode over-capacity protocols right in the middle of August is very, very concerning.”
For Parks, the worry is that there may be little remaining capacity ready to help patients in September and October when intake numbers rise due to the return of seasonal viruses and illnesses, in addition to constant pandemic-related hospitalizations.
“There’s no question we get more traumas after the August long weekend. We know that,” Parks added.
“Once we hit September and everything gets back to full speed (with) schools back in,” Parks said, “we will be absolutely compromised to the point where we can’t give safe and timely care to Albertans if the trend continues.”
That feeling is echoed by an employee at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, who asked to remain anonymous over fears of reprisal.
“I feel like any day we are on the verge of complete collapse,” they told CTV News. “You could have a bus crash, and we are on the verge of not being able to handle that.”
In their view, the healthcare system is being held up by staff regularly working 16-hour days.
“Everyone is unhappy,” they added. “Staff are exhausted. Patients are angry because they don’t feel like they are getting any care. It’s just a vicious cycle that doesn’t appear to be ending.”
Karen Craik, United Nurses of Alberta provincial secretary-treasurer and registered nurse, says part of the problem is that baseline staffing levels are not being maintained, with numbers not being adjusted to account for sick time, isolation, or vacation.
“(Nurses) are already doing the best they can,” Craik said. “And you are now being asked to triage again for hallway nursing, and you can’t give your utmost care to all these patients.”
“What it does is add to the stress of the registered nurses and anybody in the healthcare system because when you have urgent care centres being closed or emergency rooms being backed up and having to transfer patients onto units for hallway nursing, it adds extra moral stress,” she added.
“As a registered nurse, you want to look after your patient and to look after them properly. But when they are in a hallway, you cannot necessarily keep track of them. It really hampers their privacy, and it hampers the privacy of their family as well.”
‘THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE’
The Official Opposition called on the United Conservative government to take immediate action to resolve long-standing healthcare system pressure.
“We’re already beyond the brink right now in early August,” said Sarah Hoffman, Alberta NDP deputy leader. “This is not acceptable.”
“There are people whose lives are at stake,” Hoffman added. “There are health care workers whose mental health and their physical fatigue is at a breaking point.”
The Opposition says it will be putting forward proposals with specific targeted investment and strategies to alleviate the healthcare system pressure in the coming months.
“Every single leadership candidate running for any party needs to make public healthcare and the support of frontline workers and patients their highest priority.”
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Chelan Skulski and Alex Antoneshyn
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