March 3, 2015 10:21 pm

Hospital overcrowding leading to patient suffering in Alberta: doctors


CALGARY – The NDP is raising the alarm over emergency care in Alberta. Documents released by the NDP suggest gridlock in Calgary and Edmonton emergency departments has sharply increased over the past six months, and lives are being put at risk as a result. Many doctors on the front lines agree and are lobbying the provincial government for changes.

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“It’s extremely demoralizing, because we can identify people who need pain medicines and need critical interventions and we can’t get it to them,” said Dr. Paul Parks, Alberta Health Services’ south zone emergency department clinical co-lead.

But the Prentice government says the long wait times were a spike—not a trend—and that the issue is being addressed.

“We know that we’ve had challenges at various emergency rooms in various places around the province,” said Premier Jim Prentice. “We’ve moved quickly to open new acute care beds to take the pressure off because that’s the source of the underlying pressure.”

A freedom of information request shows some of the sickest patients are waiting longer than the national standard for treatment when they arrive at the emergency department of hospitals.

This happens when emergency beds are full of admitted patients who can’t be moved into the wards, because they’re also full, and was especially pronounced last fall, when flu cases spiked.

“Overall this is a government that has neglected our health system for years,” said Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley.

READ MORE: Calgary mom waits 24 hours for baby to be admitted to Alberta Children’s Hospital

This past November, Calgary’s five hospitals were over capacity more than twice a day on average. Alberta emergency doctors say last week, they sent the Prentice government some specific examples of patients whose health was compromised by unsafe wait times including a patient with a burst appendix who waited eight hours for pain medication.

“We know we should be doing things in minutes, and we’ve had cases where someone with chest pain has waited eight hours because we couldn’t get them an appropriate care space,” said Parks, who is also the trauma medical director and department of emergency medicine chief at the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital.

Both Prentice and the health minister’s office acknowledged emergency departments are facing on-going pressure, but said there’s no sharply increasing trend of overcrowding—just a few bad months last fall, with improvements again in December and January.

“You’ll hear more in the weeks ahead about the progress made to build long-term care beds for senior citizens to take the pressure off,” said Prentice.

Dr. Eddy Lang, the department head of emergency medicine for the Calgary zone, told Global News that over capacity problems in city emergency departments over the past six months are the worst they’ve been since 2010.

On the plus side, Dr. Eddy Lang said patients well enough to go home are still generally seen within the target time of four hours and anybody who requires resuscitation gets treated immediately.

But very sick patients who need to be admitted are not being seen within the target of eight hours, said Lang. He says those patients are typically lying on stretchers being attended to by paramedics while they wait—which ties up ambulances—and cited South Health Campus emergency department as a particularly problematic facility.

With files from Erika Tucker

© 2015 Shaw Media

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