The president of the Alberta Medical Association is raising concerns about capacity issues at Alberta’s hospitals.
Dr. Paul Parks said several colleagues have reached out to him over the last couple of days regarding how severe the access block is getting across the province.
He said it’s not just any one particular zone, but some hospitals in the Edmonton zone are very tight for space.
Parks said he is getting a lot of feedback around pediatrics.
“There’s a lot of really sick kids, and capacity challenges are a real struggle there right now with a lot of kids being hospitalized,” he said.
“They’re very sick. We got some feedback that it was even impacting some of the chemotherapy care for children with cancer.”
Parks wants people who are sick to still come to Alberta emergency rooms but warns there will be long wait times.
“When you see those average waits of 12 hours, that can mean people are waiting 20 hours or more because those are just averages,” he said. “Our emergency departments are overflowing with sick patients.
“Our hospitals are overflowing at 150 per cent capacity and our ICU capacity is almost completely full across the province, so it’s a very real struggle and challenge right now.”
There are several reasons behind crowded conditions over the past weekend, according to Parks, including a depleted workforce and lots of sick people this time of year.
“We have a lot of influenza patients that are sick and being admitted,” he said. “We have some COVID(-19) patients and RSV patients. All of those things are added to the others.
“It’s just the perfect storm.”
Parks said he has communicated directly with Health Minister Adriana LaGrange to make her aware of the critical nature of the situation.
“She has reassured that senior levels of AHS (Alberta Health Services) are trying to do everything they can,” Parks said.
Part of the efforts include things like trying to share the load across the province.
“The last I heard on the weekend is that the Edmonton zone had no ICU capacity left, so if people are sick, they have to stay in the emergency department or be shipped to the south zone or other zones, so I’m assuming that AHS leads are doing everything they possibly can to mitigate these challenges,” Parks said.
“I think it’s important for Albertans to understand how stressed the system is and how strained it is. We want people to still go in and get care if they’re sick, but you might get your care in non-traditional spaces.
“We are seeing a lot more sick patients with influenza. We’re having to admit a lot more.”
Parks said vaccines are mitigating the illness, but it’s critical people get vaccinated.
“We are really being strained and stressed and I’m interested to learn what is the actual state of our ICU capacity (is),” he said. “I think it it as strained as it was at some of the heights of the pandemic.
“If it’s not at 100 per cent capacity in ICU, it’s very close.”
Parks said if ICU capacity is at 100 per cent and there are no beds left, Albertans need to hear from the chief medical officer of health.
“Actively inform the public what’s going on because that’s critical for us to understand what are some of the things we can do to mitigate this, and that seems absent,” he said.
Early Monday morning, AHS issued a statement to Global News about the situation.
“Our major urban hospitals continue to experience high demand, including our emergency departments and ICUs,” the statement reads. “We continue to have ICU capacity available to those who need that specialized level of care. In addition, AHS is able to add capacity when needed — 12 surge ICU beds have been added since Thursday.
“AHS has multiple actions underway to support patient flow, including adding beds where possible, increasing staffing, expediting patient moves to appropriate continuing care spaces and working provincially to co-ordinate and support patient movement.”
The health authority said it is also “working hard to repatriate patients back to care facilities closer to their homes in order to free up space in our urban hospitals, and in some cases are sending appropriate patients to rural facilities for care.”
“We recognize that decisions like this aren’t easy on families and support systems, but these measures are required in order for us to continue to maintain capacity at our hospitals and deliver timely care to those who need it most,” AHS said. “It is important that Albertans are aware of all care options available and choose the one that best suits them and their families.
“In some cases, people visit an ED because they don’t know where else to go for care. Make sure you know all the care options available and choose the one that suits you and your family. If you’re unsure, call Health Link at 811 or visit a family doctor, pharmacist or community physician. AHS also has information that can help parents and caregivers know when to seek medical attention and when they can provide care at home to sick or injured children. This information is available at ahs.ca/heal, and people can also find more information at ahs.ca/options.”
A health policy expert at the University of Alberta says part of the problem is the number of people with COVID-19 and who have long-COVID symptoms.
“The health system will continue to be in a permanent state of collapse that worsens even more during the fall and winter so long as we continue to allow the pandemic to rage on,” said Blake Murdoch, a senior research associate at the Health Law Institute.
About one in nine Canadian adults have experienced long-term symptoms from COVID-19 infection, according to a Statistics Canada report issued Friday.
Murdoch is raising concerns about low vaccination uptake and no spread mitigation in most indoor spaces.
“Most people started referring to the pandemic in the past tense and saying COVID is over sometime during 2022,” he said. “Meanwhile, in the 10 months between August 2022 and June 2023, 2.1 million more Canadians experienced long-term COVID symptoms, and over 50 per cent didn’t recover and may never.”
Murdoch said Albertans are “living in a dream world” where COVID is no longer viewed as a major problem.
“Yet health care and many other aspects of social life continue to collapse, people’s lives are being destroyed and there is no end in sight,” he said. “The reason for this is pretty simple: COVID is a very serious and contagious pathogen — it is a SARS virus — and it will never be a cold or flu.”