As one hospital begins re-opening after a COVID-19 outbreak, Alberta Health has begun investigating a suspected outbreak at another Edmonton hospital.
There are few details available, but Alberta Health Service’s Edmonton Zone medical director says it knows about a suspected case at the Grey Nuns Hospital.
Nothing has been confirmed but AHS is investigating what happened and what it could mean. It’s not known how many people may have come into contact with patients involved in this investigation or even if the COVID infections spread within the hospital.
Dr. David Zygun says this investigation and the now-over Misericordia outbreak highlight the challenges for Alberta’s health system during a pandemic.
“As long as COVID-19 is around, we’re at risk of outbreaks and we have to continue to learn from each one,” says Dr. Zygun.
Zygun outlined how Edmonton’s Misericordia hospital will now re-open. It stopped taking patients on July 8th following a COVID-19 outbreak in the hospital.
WATCH: New death linked to Misericordia outbreak as hospital reaches one month mark of being closed (Aug. 8)
58 people were infected by the disease in that outbreak. 11 people died. It has been one month since the last new case at the Misericordia was reported to AHS so the organization felt comfortable declaring an end to the outbreak. Services will now slowly return.
“We estimate, and I stress estimate, (the return will take) two to four weeks but obviously it’ll depend on a day to day and a week to week estimate,” said Zygun.
Last Friday, the emergency department and the labour and delivery ward re-opened. More services will become available as health officials deem it safe.
Patients who had appointments and surgeries postponed will be contacted to reschedule.
The re-openings are welcomed; Zygun says the closure took its toll on a busy health system.
“We certainly learned the staff that need to go off because they may have been in close contact and need to be assessed for that create staffing pressures and we felt that throughout the zone in all departments,” he said.
Owen Heisler is the chief medical officer of Covenant Health, which operates the Misericordia.
“We’ve really made an effort in multiple different ways to learn from this so we can share that elsewhere but as this has moved forward, it has been an incredibly challenging time for us all,” Heisler said.
As each department re-opens, Zygun says staff will be closely monitored. There will be increased COVID-19 screening.
“Identification of even the most subtle symptoms, both in patients and in staff is absolutely key,” he said.
“We need to do this safely. We need to monitor how the staff and the facility is coping as well as the rest of the zone.”
Late last week, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the union that represents certain health-care workers in Alberta, says the plan from AHS and Covenant Health doesn’t go far enough.
“I think everyone is glad to see the situation has improved at the Misericordia,” AUPE vice-president and licensed practical nurse Susan Slade said in a news release.
The main concern the union has is that staff will not be tested at the Misericordia for COVID-19 and will have to book their own testing off-site.
“You would think that testing on-site would be a hugely important part of helping a hospital recover from an outbreak like this,” Slade said. “But AHS and Covenant Health are crossing their fingers and hoping asymptomatic staff just aren’t sick.”
The news release from AHS didn’t specify how Misercordia staff would be tested, but said it wanted to “assure Albertans the facility is safe for new admissions.”
The AUPE also points to the fact that visitors will once again be allowed in the hospital as being a risk. Hospitals across the province have numerous protocols in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, including screening, limitations on the number of visitors and mandatory mask wearing.