Several Alberta hospitals have been dealing with staffing shortages in their emergency departments, including three of Edmonton’s busiest EDs.
On Friday, Alberta Health Services confirmed 18 treatment beds at the Royal Alexandra Hospital’s emergency department were temporarily closed “due to short-term staffing coverage issues.”
Twelve of those beds were closed for just four hours, AHS said.
“There was no reduction in care for patients in the emergency department during those four hours and EMS was not diverted to avoid the Royal Alexandra Hospital.”
Opposition NDP leader Rachel Notley said Monday that bed closures due to staffing pressures aren’t isolated to the Royal Alex.
“Over the past weeks, we have seen critical staffing shortages in hospitals across Alberta.”
“This has led to bed closures and cancelled surgeries and repeated emergency room closures in the communities of Edson, St. Paul, Boyle, Elk Point, Galahad, Westlock, Fairview, Rocky Mountain House, Cold Lake, Lac La Biche, High Prairie, Slave Lake, Wainwright, Rimbey and Lacombe.
“Here in Edmonton, at the Royal Alex, one of the busiest emergency departments in western Canada, they had to close 18 beds, nearly half its capacity, because there aren’t enough front-line health-care workers to operate safely.”
“Over the weekend, we learned that another of Edmonton’s busiest hospitals, the Grey Nuns, will be periodically closing its endoscopy unit over the next few weeks and transporting emergency patients who need that service when the unit is closed, to other hospitals,” Notley said.
Covenant Health confirmed the endoscopy unit at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital “will operate at 80 per cent outpatient capacity” for the next two weeks “as a result of staffing coverage issues due to pre-approved staff vacations and unexpected absences for non-COVID-related medical concerns.
“No other departments within the Grey Nuns are facing service impacts of this nature.”
AHS said 11 spaces at the University of Alberta Hospital emergency department were closed for 12 hours overnight and reopened at 8 a.m. Monday.
AHS said the ED remained open “for all patients needing emergency care as usual,” “there was no reduction in care for patients in the emergency department” and “EMS was not diverted to avoid the UAH and Stollery.”
AHS issued two notices on Friday, advising of two other staffing shortages.
There will be no physician overnight (from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily) at the St. Theresa General Hospital emergency department in Fort Vermillion from July 19 to July 31, AHS said. Nursing staff will provide assessments and triage patients in the ED and refer them to the Northwest Health Centre in High Level, if needed. EMS calls will be re-routed to the Northwest Health Centre (81 kilometres away) during this time.
Also, the Sacred Heart Community Health Centre in McLennan was without an on-site emergency department physician over the weekend, AHS said. EMS calls were re-routed to High Prairie Health Complex (50 km away), Peace River Community Health Centre (80 km away) or Valleyview Healthcare Centre (90 km away), AHS said.
“This is a dangerous situation,” Notley said.
“The closures are happening because people are leaving.”
She slammed the UCP’s plan to cut Alberta nurses’ salaries, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, calling it “disrespectful, demoralizing and damaging.”
The opposition leader said the premier and health minister need to keep hospitals open and “abandon these plans to cut the wages of the Albertans who work in them.”
Notley said in other regions, bonuses are being used to encourage health-care workers to stay on and keep working. In Alberta, however, they’re looking at long-term salary rollbacks, she said.
“These folks who work in health care have gone through career-level high marks for stress and anxiety and emergency,” Notley added.
“Having gone through that, it’s shocking that their reward is to be told they’ll earn less afterward.”
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the NDP continues to politicize issues, “lie about our response to the pandemic” and “what’s happening in the province.”
“That’s their track record,” he said at a news conference Monday.
Shandro said AHS has done great work dealing with the pressures exacerbated by the pandemic.
“AHS has done an amazing job in being able to make sure resources are deployed, to make sure people are getting the critical care they need, surgeries are happening… They’ve done an amazing job acting dynamically as the situation changes across the province,” the health minister said.
In a statement to Global News Monday, AHS spokesperson James Wood said “any Albertan who is in need of acute care will get care.”
Wood said changes to service aren’t new and it is common for resources to be adjusted, especially in the summer, to align with staffing levels.
“Temporary bed closures are only done as a last resort and we work to ensure patients continue to receive safe, high-quality care.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact through staff redeployment and a depletion of the available pool of casual staff, which is being seen across Canada.”
AHS also said the staffing shortages are due to vacation time being taken by staff who worked extremely hard over the last 17 months.
“Staff are taking well-deserved vacation time and we thank them for their incredible efforts through the waves of the pandemic in Alberta to date.”
Recruitment efforts continue, Wood said.
“AHS is working on recruitment plans that are targeted to fill current vacancies by the end of August and September.
“AHS continues to aggressively recruit physicians for rural areas. New physicians have recently been recruited in McLennan, Falher, Valleyview, Barrhead, Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray, Cold Lake and St. Paul.”
While staffing challenges were expected, Alberta has worked hard to recruit health-care workers to the province, Shandro said.
“We have 1,000 more nurses than we had a year ago, so we are recruiting more.”
“We have net — month over month, quarter over quarter, year over year — more positions, more nurses because we continue to show not just the rest of the country but the rest of the world that Alberta is an amazing place not just to come to work and serve residents in your profession but also a great place to raise your children.”