In a statement posted to Twitter Thursday, Blair confirmed Ottawa will assist the province following its recent request for help.
“The available federal assistance includes a range of capabilities, including the deployment of CAF Medical resources and/or aero-medical evacuation capability,” he wrote, adding Canadian Red Cross and other federal health human resources are available.
Ottawa’s assistance comes as Alberta finds its hospitals pushed to the limits due to a surge in COVID-19 cases across the province. Alberta has been in the national spotlight for weeks over its handling of the fourth wave, following a relaxation of protective measures in the summer.
In Canada, managing health care is a provincial responsibility. Throughout the pandemic, Ottawa has supported the provinces by allocating funds and offering support like contact tracing, testing assistance and outbreak management.
But largely, the pandemic has been managed differently by each province.
On Tuesday, Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver wrote a letter to Blair seeking help with patient transfers and critical care staff. He also asked for an immediate meeting to discuss the requests.
“As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the Government of Canada stands ready to support Canadians, wherever they live and whatever their need,” Blair said.
Currently, Alberta has the highest number of intensive care unit patients in the province since the pandemic began.
On Thursday, Alberta Health Services (AHS) said 310 patients were in the ICU. In the past seven days, the number of ICU patients has increased by 17 per cent.
The province is continuing to find space for new ICU beds, and has 350 open. AHS has opened 37 additional ICU surge spaces in the past seven days, bringing capacity to 89 per cent; it would be 179 per cent without those additional spaces.
Alberta also logged 1,336 new COVID-19 cases and 20 more deaths on Wednesday. Roughly 81 per cent of eligible Albertans are partially vaccinated while 73 per cent are fully inoculated.
Alberta has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country — a factor likely to have contributed to its latest surge.
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On Sept. 18, several unions in Alberta issued a joint letter to Premier Jason Kenney warning that the health-care system was “collapsing in front of our eyes,” and that there were no more nurses to deploy.
Furthermore, Alberta will soon run out of ICU space, said Dr. Craig Jenne, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Calgary.
“All indicators are that we’re continuing to stress the health-care system, we continue to need to find space and it’s likely a matter of days before we will have to look for that space out of the province,” he told Global News on Tuesday.
Advocates have been calling on Ottawa to assist the province in its pandemic battle.
Dr. Paul Parks, president of emergency medicine at the Alberta Medical Association and an emergency medicine physician in Medicine Hat, previously told Global News help is needed.
“We are treading water as seriously as we can with this big tsunami that’s trying to drown us,” he said. “We need human beings for sure, and that’s been clear to us for the last month or longer as the numbers are climbing.”
Canadian Medical Association (CMA) president Dr. Katharine Smart also called on the federal government to help.
“The CMA is calling on the federal government to deploy all the levers possible to support the people of Alberta – from deploying military resources to health workers on federal staff,” she said. “Timing is critical – people’s lives are on the line.”
Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, previously told Global News that Ottawa needs to encourage hope among front-line workers.
“Remember at the beginning of the pandemic, when everyone was saying we’re all in this together … we need to bring back that feeling,” she said.
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“We cannot have demonstrations of angry people on the street, we have to bring back that hope and inspire the health-care workers trying to save lives in those buildings.”