Emergency doctor says some health triage has begun in Alberta: ‘People will suffer and will die’

Click to play video: 'Doctor discusses dire situation in Alberta hospitals amid COVID-19’s 4th wave'
Doctor discusses dire situation in Alberta hospitals amid COVID-19’s 4th wave
WATCH ABOVE: As hospitals in Alberta fill up to the brim with COVID-19 patients, fear is growing that medical staff are about to make on-the-spot, life-and-death decisions. One doctor says some triage measures are already in place. Chris Chacon has more – Sep 24, 2021

The head of emergency medicine for the Alberta Medical Association says major components of triage have already begun in Alberta, even though the protocol hasn’t officially been implemented.

Dr. Paul Parks said that in recent days some critically ill COVID-19 patients who should be on ventilators are not getting them.

That’s on top of previously announced mass cancellations of surgeries, along with patient transfers, as doctors balance medical need with available space, he said.

Parks said it has become routine in hospitals in the last two weeks to have some critically ill patients — most of them unvaccinated COVID-19 cases — kept on main wards rather than in intensive care units on ventilators because they don’t have the resources.

Story continues below advertisement

“We already are in positions in many hospitals across Alberta where the doctors know that it would be best for this patient to be in ICU and be on a ventilator, but we’re not providing that option until they absolutely deteriorate to the point of crashing,” Parks said Friday in an interview.

“We already are implementing some of these things that are drastic and we wish we never would have.

Parks said it’s not at the point where doctors must make on-the-spot, life-and-death decisions. But he said that’s not far away and, when it comes, the second stage of triage will follow quickly, including making those same decisions about children.

Click to play video: 'What does triage protocol look like in Alberta?'
What does triage protocol look like in Alberta?

Alberta Health Services is doing everything it can, he said, but the government has failed to lead by imposing lax health restrictions and by allowing mass gatherings, including in schools and at sports events.

Story continues below advertisement

Alberta is seeing well over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases a day.

Parks said there needs to be an immediate response, including mandatory mask mandates everywhere and shutting down schools and mass gatherings.

Click to play video: 'Alberta NDP says government need to use financial incentives to bring more nurses into health-care system'
Alberta NDP says government need to use financial incentives to bring more nurses into health-care system

An Alberta Health Services spokesperson said Friday the critical care triage has not been implemented, and the health authority hopes it will not have to do so.

“It will only be implemented if all efforts to increase ICU capacity are exhausted — that has not happened yet,” Kerry Williamson said in an email to Global News, adding AHS continues to add ICU surge spaces, including 42 in the past seven days (and 20 in the past 24 hours).

Story continues below advertisement

“Any patient who requires mechanical ventilation is currently able to receive it,” he said.

Dr. Verna Yiu, head of Alberta Health Services, said Thursday one key reason intensive care wards have not been overwhelmed is because enough COVID-19 patients are dying to free up bed space.

“It’s tragic that we are only able to keep pace with some of these sort of numbers because, in part, some of our ICU patients have passed away,” she said on Thursday.

Yiu said the ICU admission numbers are highs the province hasn’t seen in the three previous waves of COVID-19, nor in Alberta’s history.

She said every day, the province reaches a new high.

Williamson acknowledged AHS is operating at a “reduced standard of care, however safety remains at the forefront of all decisions.”

Story continues below advertisement

— With files from Heide Pearson, Global News

Sponsored content