One day after Alberta Health announced it would be opening extra pandemic response unit beds to help ease pressure on the health care system, some emergency room doctors say it’s not enough.
On Thursday the province announced it would transform hundreds of beds into inpatient care spaces as hospitalizations surge in Alberta.
With thousands of health care workers out with the virus, burnout or other reasons, hundreds of nursing students and behind-the-scenes staff are being called in to help.
At the same time, Premier Jason Kenney said Alberta had likely hit the peak of Omicron cases calling it “good news.”
He added hospitalizations are not expected to peak for another two weeks. He also said he was hopeful the province could start easing restrictions soon.
“All the frontline health care workers are quite demoralized right now by the disconnect of what the messaging is by our government and what’s actually happening in our hospitals,” Medicine Hat emergency room physician Dr. Paul Parks told Global News.
Hospitalizations continued to rise, up to 1,191 people Friday from 1,131 people on Thursday — numbers previously unprecedented in the pandemic. The number of patients being treated in intensive care dropped by one person to 107 on Friday.
Eight additional deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours, bringing the province’s death toll to 3,429.
Alberta reported 3,592 lab-confirmed cases on Friday from just over 10,500 tests. The positivity rate was 35.3 per cent. Active cases dropped slightly to 61,615 Friday.
The province has said the reported numbers are much lower than the actual presence of the virus in the community, because of limited access to PCR testing.
Dr. Parks said patients are having to wait 8 to 10 hours for care in some emergency rooms.
Even patients without COVID-19 who are suffering from chest pains or broken bones are experiencing long waits and are often put in beds in hallways and, in some cases, closets.
Parks said health care staff shortages is the type of information Alberta Health needs to be providing so that people do what they can to prevent the virus from spreading and more hospitalizations.
“We need messaging very strong again to tell people that doing the simple things, like washing your hands, wearing masks, decreasing your social interactions and (cohort) bubbles. And getting vaccinated — the vaccine is working,” said Parks.
Along with the nursing students and behind-the-scenes staff, Alberta Health announced it would be moving to more of a team approach when caring for patients in hospital.
The exact details were not released but Edmonton emergency room physician Dr. Shazma Mithani says health care workers at her hospital are already responsible for multiple patients at one time.
“To continue to ask (health care workers) to do more is not fair and it’s not sustainable,” said Mithani.
Mithani agreed with Parks that the province needs to be more transparent about how dire the situation is in Alberta hospitals.
She said comments that we are ‘almost through the pandemic’ or that the next few weeks were ‘short term pain’ were not helpful.
“I don’t think it’s short term pain for the person who ends up in ICU or ends up in hospital and has long-term consequences from their COVID.”
“So we have to remember that every single person that is suffering through this pandemic is a human,” Mithani expressed.
Mithani said she, too, wants to be done with the pandemic, and that she wants to return to travelling and being able to see family members and friends. But the reality in hospitals is that, right now, none of that is possible.
While some Albertans have said they are over restrictions and precautions and are putting their hands up, that’s not an option for those on the front lines, she added.
“It really speaks to how much health care workers have been dehumanized during this pandemic and kind of seen as these people who are just there working in hospitals, and not really understanding that we have lives and that our mental health has been dramatically impacted.”
Premier Jason Kenney has repeatedly warned there are those in the province who would like to see a full lockdown implemented.
Dr. Parks said he and other emergency room doctors were not among them, but that more gradual steps would go a long way in preventing more people from ending up in hospitals.
“In terms of further restrictions, in terms of changes like protecting our children in our schools and (air) filters, there are lots of things that our government could be doing to make our environment out there safe, to decrease transmission way before having to actually lock down and shut down,” said Parks.
When hospitalizations do peak in about two weeks, an estimated 1,500 people could be in Alberta hospitals with the virus.
Pandemic response units are expected to start opening at in Edmonton and Calgary on Monday. They will provide space for patients who have the virus but who do not need the same constant care as those in ICUs.
— With files from Caley Gibson, Global News