Edmonton, Calgary experiencing strain on emergency services in part due to heat wave: AHS

An ambulance waits at the scene as police investigate at a warehouse in Edmonton, on Friday, February 28, 2014. A hospital in west Edmonton has new restrictions in place as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

Alberta’s two largest cities are both experiencing “extremely high demand” for emergency services, in part due to the province’s heat wave.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) said EMS is seeing “extremely high demand in Edmonton and Calgary.” AHS attributed the influx to heat-related calls, emergency calls related to people participating in outdoor activities and drug and alcohol-related calls.

“The care needs and the complexities of the patients coming in are the highest we have seen of multiple causes ever since the pandemic started,” emergency room registered nurse Matthew Douma said.

Douma is also an adjunct professor of critical care medicine at the University of Alberta. He said a concern in patient care is health care professionals being stretched too thin.

“An important factor of the capacity of our health care system is the health and wellness and resilience of the people who work within it,” Douma said. “I think now they are facing an all-time low.”

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Heather Smith, president of the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), said nurses are facing staffing deficits across the province.

“Some of my work sites are reporting having 50 per cent of their positions vacant,” Smith said. “The system is relying on an exhausted workforce to push even harder and do more with less personnel.”

Smith said the nurses in Edmonton are under “distress.” In addition to the fight against COVID-19, Smith said the workforce has been under additional stress after bargaining for a new collective agreement started in January 2020.

READ MORE: 49 temperature records set across Alberta on June 30; Jasper warns of fire danger

On July 1, EMS in Edmonton and Calgary each responded to 28 heat-related calls, according to the province’s health authority. It was a significant increase from June 25, when AHS reported EMS responded to seven heat-related calls total in the two cities.

According to the AHS website, the busiest wait times for emergency departments in the province on Sunday morning included more than three hours at both the Misericordia Community Hospital and Northeast Community Heath Centre in Edmonton and Sheldon M. Chumir Centre in Calgary. There was a nearly six-hour wait at the WestView Health Centre in Stony Plain at 10 a.m.

Read more: Edmonton fire crews respond to calls of people, animals locked in vehicles during heat wave

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AHS told Global News in a statement that “EMS has brought on additional staff and ambulances, us deploying supervisors and delaying some non-urgent transfers.”

“For example, in Edmonton EMS operated seven additional ambulances on Thursday night, and our partners were also able to bring in three additional ambulances to support the high call volume,” AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said.

“Anyone who needs EMS care will receive it. We are ensuring that the most critical patients are prioritized for receiving immediate care,” Williamson said.

But Douma said the resilience of Alberta’s health care professionals has been shaken since the start of the pandemic.

There’s a human factor. There is a certain amount of distress in the system,” he said.

“The pressures that are being faced right now are unlike anything that’s existed in the last 15 years.”

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Water, power consumption concerns during Alberta heat wave – Jun 29, 2021

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