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High surgical loads, staffing shortage lead to patient transfers out of Red Deer

Click to play video: 'Surgery transfers and delays cause some Albertans to find help elsewhere'
Surgery transfers and delays cause some Albertans to find help elsewhere
WATCH: More than a dozen surgery patients in Red Deer were transferred to hospitals in other cities over the weekend. Staffing shortages and a lack of beds continues to impact many Alberta communities, pushing some to see private care. Sarah Offin reports – Dec 14, 2021

Alberta Health Services says the patient care situation in Red Deer has stabilized as of Monday morning.

Over the weekend, 14 surgical patients had to be flown from Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre (RDRHC) to hospitals in Calgary and Edmonton in an effort to reduce patient wait times.

Read more: Alberta says surgery backlog has stabilized at 81,600 following latest COVID-19 wave

All the patients flown out were in stable condition and emergency cases were still handled in Red Deer.

AHS spokesperson Kerry Williams said in a statement the situation stabilized as of 8 a.m. Monday.

“RDRHC has been experiencing higher than normal number of patients needing surgery, which has been compounded by ongoing vacancies in OR staffing that have impacted the number of procedures able to be performed in Red Deer,” said Williamson.

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“The site is working to perform additional surgeries this week with all available staffing supports, as well as increasing OR time at other sites in the Central Zone such as Olds Hospital and Care Centre.”

Read more: Surge of COVID-19 cases spurs City of Red Deer to declare state of local emergency

AHS said it continues to actively recruit additional staff to support increased surgical volumes at the hospital, as well as providing additional in-house training for staff through an OR training program developed at the site.

Provincially, efforts continue to increase surgical volumes and return to pre-pandemic numbers to help ensure Albertans who require surgery receive it within clinically appropriate timelines.

Red Deer isn’t the only place in Alberta facing a medical staff shortage.

There are 24 Alberta communities reporting bed closures or service cuts due to staffing shortages.

The AHS bed closure website confirms that a doctor shortage has also halted surgeries in Cold Lake until January.

That’s where Tara Noseworthy was expecting to have her second child.

“I had assumed that I would give birth at the hospital here in Cold Lake,” said Noseworthy. “But a couple of weeks ago I started hearing rumours about a staffing problem at the hospital.”

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Last week, her doctor confirmed that there is no anesthesiologist at the hospital for the month of December, so Noseworthy’s delivery would have to happen 300 kilometres away in Edmonton.

“This is incredibly stressful. In the last few weeks of pregnancy, anything can happen. I have my first appointment with a new doctor in Edmonton on Wednesday. So that’s a three-and-half-hour drive each way in winter. And I don’t know what they’re going to say,” she said in an NDP release Monday.

“This is a terrifying feeling. What happens when I go into labour? I guess we go to the hospital and they put me in a ground ambulance or a helicopter to Edmonton, to a team I’ve never met before. I’ll be away from my home and away from my family. I hope my husband can get there in time. What is supposed to be one of the most exciting times of my life has turned into constant tears and stress.”

NDP health critic David Shepherd calls the situation “scandalous” and “totally unacceptable”.

“Tara doesn’t live in a remote community. She doesn’t have a rare condition. She lives in a city of 15,000 people, with a hospital. But thanks to the UCP there aren’t enough doctors for the hospital to perform one of the basic functions of a hospital which is to deliver babies,” he said.

“I am deeply worried that the UCP has caused so much damage to our health-care system we may get to a point where Albertans have to leave the province altogether to get the care they need. That would be an unforgivable failure by the UCP.”

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Surgery transfers and delays aren’t new to the province.

It’s a problem pushing some Albertans to seek private care elsewhere.

After years of living with hip problems, Valerie Goodman said another 12-15 month wait with AHS wasn’t an option.

In the past year, Vancouver-based Timely Medical Services facilitated about 100 private surgeries for patients like Goodman, who wanted their procedures done sooner rather than later.

“I became very debilitated,” said Goodman. “I couldn’t walk, my leg was collapsing. I was in a lot of pain…so my husband and I said this, I couldn’t live like this. And so we started looking at going privately.”

The head of the private hospital said Goodman isn’t alone. About 65 per cent of patients that go there are from Alberta.

“They come to us primarily for joint replacements — knees, hips, shoulders,” said Richard Baker.

“But we also have cardiac clients. We’ve facilitated cardiac bypasses, for people who were approved for surgery in Alberta, but were on a long waiting list.”

But of course those kind of options are only available for those that can afford it. Goodman said  she had help from family, including an inheritance.

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AHS said it is providing additional in-house training as it continues to try to recruit additional staff to support increased surgical volumes here and across the province.

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