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Alberta hospitals ‘frequently exceeding’ capacity as COVID-19 cases spike: AHS memo

Click to play video 'COVID-19: Internal AHS email outlines major hospital capacity concerns across Alberta' COVID-19: Internal AHS email outlines major hospital capacity concerns across Alberta
WATCH: An internal AHS email obtained by Global News outlines serious capacity concerns in Alberta hospitals with a surge of patients still expected to come amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Lauren Pullen reports – Nov 16, 2020

Hospitals in Calgary and Edmonton are “frequently exceeding 100 per cent” capacity as the province continues to see record-high COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations, according to an Alberta Health Services memo obtained by Global News.

“Some units are seeing occupancy as high as 125 per cent,” reads the email, addressed to all AHS staff, physicians and volunteers late last week.

Read more: COVID-19: What does Alberta’s hospital surge plan look like?

“Much of this is being driven by the need to isolate COVID-positive or likely-COVID-positive patients or close contacts.”

According to Dr. Peter Jamieson, facility medical director at the Foothills Medical Centre, the issue isn’t that there are too many patients, but rather the need for isolating patients means a lot of space isn’t available.

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“Between Calgary and Edmonton, we have about 800 isolation beds, however, we are currently using about 1,200 isolation beds, meaning some beds in multi-bed rooms cannot be used,” the AHS memo said.

As of Sunday, 262 Albertans were being treated in hospital for COVID-19, with 58 of them in intensive care.

The update goes on to say that because of COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes in all five of Alberta’s health zones, more than 500 continuing care beds are closed, meaning people who would otherwise be transferred to one of those facilities have to wait in hospitals.

“This also limits the number of available hospital beds,” the email said.

Click to play video '‘Walking a tightrope with no safety net’: Alberta physician expresses COVID-19 capacity concern' ‘Walking a tightrope with no safety net’: Alberta physician expresses COVID-19 capacity concern
‘Walking a tightrope with no safety net’: Alberta physician expresses COVID-19 capacity concern – Nov 13, 2020

Jamieson said hospitals exceeding capacity isn’t a problem unique to COVID-19 and can happen sometimes during flu season. However, amid the pandemic “it’s a much bigger problem.”

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“We have lots of staff, lots of equipment” said Jamieson, who also advises the AHS emergency coordination centre. “We’re concerned about all of those things but we’re currently doing well from those perspectives.”

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Jamieson said the issue with long-term care beds being blocked because of facility outbreaks is something being dealt with not only in Alberta, but also across Canada and around the world.

Just over two weeks ago, AHS enacted its hospital capacity surge plan in Edmonton, meaning roughly 30 per cent of non-urgent surgeries were postponed.

Read more: Coronavirus: Alberta doctor warns ICU could be at capacity within 2 weeks

Similar surge capacity measures will be coming to hospitals in the Calgary and South zones within the next two weeks, AHS said in the email.

“These measures allow frontline teams to be redeployed to other areas to meet demand and ease pressure points,” the email said.

“Taking these steps has helped ease pressure [in Edmonton], but we continue to work to meet the demands of capacity and find ways to reduce the pressure on our hospitals.”
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Read more: ‘Patients will die’: Doctors warn hospitals bursting as coronavirus cases soar

Jamieson said officials are “very concerned about community transmission,” and expects to see more hospitalizations in the coming weeks as case numbers climb.

“We’re not panicking, but we are planning carefully,” he said. “Part of that planning means being prepared to temporarily limit things like elective surgery, if we have to.”

He said Calgary is not yet at that point, but officials are expecting it within the next 10-14 days.

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Albertans confused over new COVID-19 restrictions: What is and isn’t allowed? – Nov 13, 2020

“If we keep going on our current trajectory, I think it’s likely that we will need to put into place the first phase of expanded capacity for our ICU units,” Jamieson said.

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“I am comfortable that we’ve done really good planning to be ready for those first one or two phases. If the situation continued to escalate, we would continue to escalate our plans.”

As of Sunday, Alberta had 9,618 active COVID-19 cases, after reporting more than 2,000 new cases over the weekend.

— with files from Global News’ Lauren Pullen