With a healthcare system already under strain, the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) is warning of an upcoming surge in respiratory illnesses following the holiday season.
“With holiday gatherings and increased indoor social contact with families and friends that took place, we expect a new surge of respiratory viruses in our emergency departments and hospitals. Children are among the hardest hit this winter,” the association said in a tweet Wednesday.
The lack of capacity has some Edmontonians worried; one woman told Global News it could mean her close friend’s aggressive cancer will kill her before she can receive medical treatment.
Lori Harsh told Global News of her friend’s frustrating experience staying in hospital undergoing treatment for cholangiocarcinoma, a form of cancer that forms in the bile ducts.
The friend was admitted to the surgical ward because that’s where a bed was available, and that meant the medical team’s primary focus was clearing her out of the room to free out the bed, Harsh said.
It took multiple tries to get a sample for the biopsy, then the results were delayed. A drainage tube wasn’t put in properly, so her friend was in “excruciating” pain, and was thus heavily medicated, said Harsh.
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“It was a massive fail,” she said.
Harsh said her friend was in hospital for a month, getting weaker, and that a referral to the Cross Cancer Institute never ended up going through. At the end of December when the friend finally came home, she heard that she wouldn’t even get a phone call to book a consult at the Cross for another eight weeks.
“We’ve been informed that (my friend’s) cancer is quite progressive, it’s quite aggressive. I don’t even know that she will make it to the time to get to even see an oncologist,” said Harsh.
Global News has reached out to Alberta Health Services for comment.
A home care worker is coming once a day to clean the drainage tube. Harsh wants her to move into hospice, but there’s a wait for that, too.
“My fear is that throughout all of this, before (she) even receives any medical care, she won’t be here anymore,” said Harsh.
“She deserves better.”
Meanwhile, the Stollery Children’s Hospital is abnormally busy right now, even factoring in the usual post-holidays rush. Last month, the hospital experienced sustained high volumes of acutely ill patients requiring care in the emergency department, pediatric intensive care and inpatient units.
As of Jan. 5, inpatient capacity at the Stollery was still at or above 100 per cent. The hospital’s PICU was at 100 per cent. Ten of 13 additional inpatient surge beds added to the hospital are in use and staffed at this time.
Hospitalizations went down slightly around Dec. 25 as families “held on” for Christmas celebrations, but went back up after the holiday, according to Dr. Sam Wong, president of the AMA and a doctor at the Stollery.
“The numbers have decreased from our really high peaks at the beginning of December but they’re still well in excess of what we normally see this time of year,” said Wong.
“We’re still stressing our system.”
Wong said it’s difficult to find beds for children sick with influenza and RSV and they sometimes have to wait in the emergency room while a bed is opened up.
Edmonton’s hospitals are bursting at the seams for a few interconnected reasons, according to intensive care doctor Dr. Darren Markland.
“I think what we’re seeing is the residual effects of three years of inadequate primary care and the ashes of ongoing COVID infections and viral infections which have generally made the population sicker,” he said.
Also straining the system are people without homes to be discharged to who are in hospital with complex mental and physical health problems, according to Markland.
“There’s nobody to look after them. They have to stay in hospital and take up hospital beds.”
Provincial ICU capacity, including additional surge beds, is currently at 86 per cent, according to AHS.
To help ease the pressures on the system, Wong hopes Albertans follow the public health advice we’ve heard a lot of over the last three years — advice he says is starting to fall on deaf ears.
“We’re hoping that people will take simple public health measures like masking in public, or if they’re sick, not to go out … try and decrease the number of social interactions if possible,” said Wong.