Alberta Health Services said, as of Friday morning, it has started to redeploy staff to Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary.
An influx of people with respiratory illnesses has been putting extra strain on an already strapped health-care system for weeks, specifically children’s hospitals like the ACH and Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton.
“We’re opening up more capacity, more beds at the Alberta Children’s Hospital,” said ACH RN Margaret Fullerton. “Across the street is the Rotary Flames House. We’re taking the really expert staff that are there and having them come over to help us with opening up more capacity at the children’s hospital.”
That means the respite services at RFH will be temporarily paused.
“These are children who are medically stable, but it’s giving their families some respite,” Fullerton said. “As soon as we see the respiratory surge decreasing so we can move staff back, that’s exactly what we’ll do and we’ll reach out to those families and rebook them.”
Read more: Rise in respiratory illnesses trigger long wait times at Alberta Children’s Hospital, Stollery
In addition to an earlier and more intense start to influenza season, Alberta hospitals are also seeing high volumes of RSV and COVID-19 cases.
“With respiratory viruses surging in the community, Alberta Children’s Hospital (ACH) is experiencing sustained high volumes of acutely ill patients requiring care in our emergency department, pediatric intensive care and inpatient units,” AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson told Global News in an email Friday.
“To help ensure the right care is available to the young patients that require critical care and support, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily pause respite admissions at Rotary Flames House (RFH) and redeploy our staff to assist in supporting patients at the hospital.”
The goal is to have all clients discharged from RFH by Tuesday, Dec. 6, AHS said.
“All other services provided at the RFH, palliative, end-of-life care will continue and will be temporarily relocated to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Grief support will also continue.”
AHS said it will attempt to resume normal services at RFH as soon as possible.
On Nov. 26, AHS added a heated trailer to ACH as an additional waiting area to help ease the stress of patient influx.On Nov. 25, both the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary and Edmonton’s Stollery were at or above 100 per cent inpatient capacity.
Read more: Respiratory illnesses put Stollery Children’s Hospital at capacity, doctors concerned about peak
Dr. Stephen Freedman, an emergency department physician at Alberta Children’s Hospital, said they’re seeing “an inordinately large number” of kids coming to emergency with fevers, coughs, shortness of breath — predominately RSV and flu, as well as some COVID-19 cases and croup.
The volume of patients the hospital is seeing is between 25 and 30 per cent over normal, Freedman said.
“We are doing everything we can to accommodate and adjust for these volumes, which really is requiring the support of the entire health-care system — through our intensive care unit staff to our pediatric staff to our emergency department, but not just the physicians; the nurses are really at the front line of a lot of this, along with our respiratory therapists and other ancillary health-care providers.”
He said even during the Omicron wave, the hospital didn’t see children as ill as they are now.
“We’re seeing more children require oxygen and other supportive therapy at this time than we did with the COVID surge in the spring. But even then, our ED visit volumes were nowhere near where they are now. That’s primarily because of the circulation and the timing of these viruses — it’s all overlapping.”
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Dr. Laura Sauve, with the Canadian Pediatric Society Chair of Infectious Diseass and Immunization Committee, said the trend is nation-wide.
“in British Columbia, we’re still definitely in the thick of things, and I’m hearing from colleagues across the country that it’s still challenging in all pediatric centres.
“We’re seeing more cases than usual in part because we had three years with almost no cases, so very few people have been exposed.
“Health-care workers all across the country that work in child health are running as fast as they can and they’re dedicated and resilient people but they are also very tired. Hospitals are having to be creative in making sure that we can provide high levels of care even when we are stretched really very thin.”
Sauve said not having kids together in school over the holiday break might help put a break on things, but Freedman points out it presents other risks.
“We do worry, obviously, as people gather more and more with socialization over the holiday season, that will lead to more viral transmission. Some projections (suggest) the peak of influenza is still to come and we haven’t quite hit it yet, so these are all worrisome facts.”
He said parents can help by only seeking emergency care when absolutely necessary. Health Link, walk-in clinics and primary care physicians are alternatives, Freedman said.
“The most important thing to do is to ensure that kids are vaccinated against COVID and influenza if they’re eligible, to encourage appropriate prevention strategies such as hand hygiene, not having kids socialize when they are sick… masking in appropriate situations when there is high risk of viral transmission.”
All Alberta hospitals — not just children’s hospitals — are experiencing significant capacity pressures, putting strain on the entire health system, AHS added Friday.
Particularly, the surge in respiratory illnesses has meant more emergency visits and hospitalized patients.
Urban hospitals — in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray and Lethbridge — have been at or above 100 per cent capacity since the summer, Williamson said.
Both emergency departments and in-patient units have been at or over 100 per cent capacity for this “sustained period.”
“The hospitals are able to accommodate patients over 100 per cent of normal capacity at peak times, including in the ICUs as needed to meet current needs and those we can anticipate in the near future,” Williamson said.
“Our care teams are doing all they can to see and treat patients as efficiently as possible during this time.”