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COVID-19: Alberta MLA under fire for comments on AHS’ handling of pandemic

Click to play video: 'UCP MLA blames AHS, Yiu for ICU capacity issues' UCP MLA blames AHS, Yiu for ICU capacity issues
WATCH ABOVE: A UCP MLA is pointing the finger at Alberta Health Services and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu. Shane Getson says AHS dropped the ball on ICU capacity this fall. As Tom Vernon explains, that has drawn sharp criticism – Sep 27, 2021

The MLA for Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland who came under fire for comments he made on Facebook over the weekend has apologized.

As Alberta hospitals continue to grapple with the fourth wave of COVID-19, Shane Getson wrote Saturday that someone had tagged him in a 2016 news article detailing the salaries of high-profile Alberta Health Services employees.

Read more: Active COVID-19 cases in Alberta reach 21,307 Monday; ICU cases soar

“For this kind of money, and the amount we pour into the system, I think we need to be getting more bang for our buck when it comes to resource planning,” the Sept. 25 post read.

“ICU bed levels that were available for the public dropped unacceptably low coming into cold and flu season and a prediction of the fourth wave. Hence the ‘crunch, and strain’ on the system. The wave hit, but AHS didn’t staff the beds adequately to meet their own predictions?”

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Following frustration by many health-care workers, Getson took to social media again Tuesday to apologize.

“When bringing to question the management of resources by AHS executive to meet the rising need of ICU beds for Albertans it was in context of the management of the organization, and its processes, not the personnel that operate this stations,” he wrote.

“The front-line health-care professionals deserve our thanks, they need additional support, and I will continue to do so.”

The MLA went on to say, “As an elected leader, I need to set a better example and I humbly apologize again for any offence my words may have caused.”

Many health-care workers took to social media, frustrated with the UCP MLA’s comments at a time when, in some regions, the health-care system is on the verge of collapsing due to the influx of ICU patients.

“It is with great dismay, disappointment and indignation that we feel we must respond to the statements made on Facebook by MLA Getson,” a Monday letter from the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association stated.

“These statements, directed at Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu cannot be left uncontested, for they demonstrate an abysmal lack of understanding about our health system and public health.”

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Read more: Alberta doctors plead with new health minister for ‘fire break’ lockdown amid 4th COVID-19 wave

The three-page letter also described the post as a “personal attack” on the president and CEO of AHS, and pointed to the “complete lack of understanding” about ICU capacity and how Alberta Health directs AHS operations.

Also adding their voice to the mix was Opposition Leader Rachel Notley.

“Those comments were absolutely disgusting,” Notley said at a Monday afternoon news conference.

“I will say that AHS has not let down Albertans — the UCP government has let down Albertans through their 18-month long attack on AHS.

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Questions around ICU bed numbers

In another Facebook post on Saturday, Getson claimed AHS was looking at how to make 1,000 ICU beds available earlier in the pandemic.

In his post, he said it’s a “good thing we have the public all up in arms fighting with each other over passports… otherwise they might be asking what the heck has our $20-billion-plus-per-year AHS group been doing for ICU capacity when the public that pays for the system may need it!”

Read more: ‘We weren’t thinking about other people’: unvaccinated Alberta man on his time in ICU with COVID-19

In a statement to Global News, AHS said the “very preliminary” estimate that Alberta may need 1,000 ICU spaces was made at the start of the pandemic, in spring 2020, and was “based on worst-case estimates of potential case numbers and disruption of the health-care system.”

The health authority said it has increased hospital and ICU capacity throughout the pandemic, well above its baseline number of beds. To date, 197 additional ICU surge spaces have been added for a total of 370 — that’s more than double the typical 173 beds, and more than the second or third wave totals of 291 and 295 ICU spaces respectively.

“ICU patients require highly-skilled, specialized physicians and nurses, and the level of care is extremely complex,” AHS said.

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“Our ability to add ICU capacity has changed throughout the pandemic, as we have learned more about treating COVID-19 patients, and as we have faced increasingly difficult staffing challenges.”

 

Global News reached out to Getson for an interview on his Facebook posts and the claims made in it, however, did not receive a response.

— With files from Global News’ Tom Vernon

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