According to Alberta Health Services, intensive care units in Calgary and Edmonton are quickly approaching current capacity limits as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise in the province.
In Calgary zone ICUs, as of numbers released Friday evening, total bed capacity in the zone is 90 per cent occupied.
In Edmonton zone, the total ICU bed capacity sits at 92 per cent occupied.
“These numbers fluctuate regularly,” said a statement from James Wood with Alberta Health Services on Friday.
“At times, ICUs may operate at or above 100 per cent capacity, with additional supports available to be provided as necessary during those periods.”
The hospitalization rate in Alberta has spiked over the last month. On Oct. 20, there were 116 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, 16 of whom were in intensive care units. On Saturday, there were 320 Albertans in hospital, 56 of whom are in intensive care units.
Heather Smith, the president of United Nurses of Alberta, said Friday that expanding the ICU capacity means more than just adding an extra bed.
“There’s a lot of moral distress in terms of people — providers — feeling that they have not provided the level of care for families and patients that they would like to provide because of understaffed situations.”
Wood added there are “robust contingency plans” for the ICUs as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the province. He said the plan is to increase capacity in 10-bed increments in zones as the need arises.
“Increased capacity for ICU means expanding into existing spaces, including opening up unfunded spaces, and then converting other existing spaces into ICU spaces,” he told Global News.
Edmonton and Calgary zones are both facing a surge of COVID-19, with Saturday’s update showing 44 per cent of the 11,274 currently active provincial cases in Edmonton zone and 39 per cent in Calgary zone.
On Friday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that while the province had initially reserved 70 ICU beds for COVID-19 patients, health officials have the ability to adjust that number and expand it.
“Throughout the pandemic response, I’ve indicated that 70 general ICU beds have been planned for patients who test positive for COVID-19,” Hinshaw said. “Let me be clear, Alberta Health Services manages ICU beds and staff, depending on demand from both COVID-19 patients and patients that require intensive care. There are 173 general adult ICU beds for this purpose. These beds can be used for many patient types.
“I want to assure Albertans that as more COVID-19 patients require intensive care, AHS is able to add additional intensive care capacity.”
Smith said she believes it is time for the province to implement stronger measures against COVID-19 before staff for ICUs become stretched too thin.