Urgent remedy sought for pediatrician shortage

The departure of two local pediatricians has seen Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre calling in pediatricians more often from Calgary and Edmonton to cover on-call duties at the hospital.

The departure of two local pediatricians has seen Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre calling in pediatricians more often from Calgary and Edmonton to cover on-call duties at the hospital.

Currently nine local pediatricians provide on-call duty at the hospital. Not all of them work full-time.

In March, the shortage left one Red Deer family travelling to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary after a seven-hour wait at the Red Deer emergency department without getting to see a doctor.

Dr. Evan Lundall, medical director of Alberta Health Services Central Zone, said efforts are underway to recruit three new pediatricians who will hopefully arrive in the next few weeks and months.

He said the hospital periodically uses pediatric locums to fill in on-call gaps for different reasons.

“We’ve always used locums to help cover the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, very, very busy service that we provide. We’ve had some unexpected departures and as a result we’ve had to have contingencies to be able to still provide the 24 hours a day, seven days a week coverage for general pediatrics and neonatology,” said Lundall on Wednesday.

“Thankfully we’ve had some very positive support from pediatricians in Calgary and Edmonton to help us. We’re not unique in that. All of the regional hospitals have difficulty. I think we’re in the best position of all the regional facilities to provide continuous care provision.”

Red Deer hospital has about 10 pediatric beds and a 17-bed neonatal intensive care unit.

He said with the help of Calgary and Edmonton, it was very doubtful Red Deer would be without an on-call pediatrician while the new recruits make their way to the city.

Calgary and Edmonton have a vested interest in Red Deer succeeding. Young patients would otherwise travel to those cities for care, he said.

Red Deer hospital delivers about 2,700 babies annually, including high-risk pregnancies, and sees almost 10,000 pediatric patients a year through the emergency department, but not all need a pediatrician.

He said when it comes to pediatric patients, Red Deer hospital probably ranks third, behind Alberta’s two children’s hospitals, when it comes to acuity, or intensity of care required. The hospital also ranks fourth in acuity for adult patients and is the busiest of all the regional hospitals.

He said Red Deer’s pediatric department has assessed and trained pediatricians for other hospitals.

“We have a vibrant and active unit and now it’s our turn to be recipients of the graces of Edmonton and Calgary while we load up our staffing quotient again.

“I’m very, very proud of the pediatric service that we’ve offered to the city for a long time,” Lundall said.

Red Deer grandmother Andrea Dancause said her daughter chose to take her very sick son to Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary in early March after a spending seven hours at the Red Deer emergency department and left without answers.

She said a lab technician later notified the family that tests done at the ER showed her grandson Gage Stephanson had a serious blood infection streptococcus pneumoniae bacteremia and needed immediate hospital care.

They choose to go to Calgary where it took an hour to see a doctor and put on intravenous antibiotics. When they returned to Red Deer hospital to continue his treatment it took another 12 hours to be admitted which caused him to miss his second dose of antibiotics.

“You almost want to warn other parents. If you’ve got something other than a sore throat, you can go to Calgary or Edmonton who have a children’s hospital. They know what to do,” Dancause said.

She said the Red Deer hospital is overburdened.

Dancause contacted AHS and was told her complaints would be investigated.


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