Alberta Health Services said changes are underway at Red Deer hospital to help ease some of the concerns expressed in a town hall meeting on Wednesday.
But AHS is not yet giving front-line health workers at Red Deer hospital the main thing they are demanding — a transition plan that addresses how some extreme stresses at the hospital will be eased before the facility expansion is completed in 2030-31.
According to an AHS spokesperson, improvements are now happening to boost efficiency and reduce strain on hospital staff, such as creating two distinct units — for internal medicine and short-stay surgeries — out of one mixed-use patient unit.
These specialized units will reduce the amount of travelling between units to see patients that teams of health-care providers will have to do, the spokesperson said.
As well, a specialty program for outpatients is being built at Red Deer hospital to help ease pressure in areas such as the Emergency Department.
Additional ICU beds have also been added, and the hospital is increasing day surgeries, and working to maximize use of other operating rooms close to Red Deer to help manage the surgical wait lists, stated the AHS spokesperson.
All of these measures are very welcome and will help improve patient care, said Dr. Kym Jim, of the Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta.
But he stressed they are not the comprehensive transition plan that is needed to address wide-ranging concerns at the facility.
Jim said the changes now happening are long overdue in addressing some hospital shortfalls that have been complained about for years.
While AHS is “doing something now because we are in crisis,” Jim feels “we have many, many other areas that still need to be addressed.”
Among them is a need for further enhancements in outpatient care as well as the surgical program, and the need for wide-scale recruitment — especially for physician support workers.
“The only way to adequately address these is through a transition plan,” he reiterated.
Only eight out of nine operating rooms at the hospital are now operating because of a lack of surgical support staff. AHS stated it’s recruiting more support staff as well as anesthesiologists and surgeons to get all nine ORs operating.
The spokesperson reported that seven new specialty trained nurses are joining the OR team next month. “Two new anesthesiologists are already on board and four more coming.”
AHS previously stated other recruitment successes include a cardiologist recruited in November and two more internal medicine specialists to start this summer.
The spokesperson said AHS is adopting care models that integrate alternative care providers (clinical assistants, physician assistants and some nurse practitioners). These alternative providers can provide hands-on care to patients under the direction or supervision of a doctor, extending physician capacity.
This helps with retention because doctors have more manageable patient loads and an improved work/life balance, said the spokesperson.
AHS is looking to boost the six clinical assistant positions for surgery at at Red Deer hospital by 16 alternative care provider positions. This will include six for orthopedic surgery, three for urology and one for general surgery.
The spokesperson added AHS is also looking at how to best address another concern that was expressed at the SHECA meeting: equity in providing supplemental payments to central Zone surgical specialists.