Alberta Health apologizes for long waits at H1N1 vaccine clinics

Alberta Health Services’ top executive apologized to Albertans on Thursday for the long lineups at H1N1 vaccination clinics.

An Alberta Health Services official turns away people looking to seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccinations at the Lacombe Memorial Centre Thursday afternoon. Unless people had lined up outside and been given a number earlier in the day

Alberta Health Services’ top executive apologized to Albertans on Thursday for the long lineups at H1N1 vaccination clinics.

But AHS president Stephen Duckett is not sorry Alberta rushed to set up the clinics.

“Some communities across Canada chose not to vaccinate until later. We could have waited. Added more clinics. Taken additional time to bring in more staff and probably not have subjected ourselves to such criticism,” Duckett said at an Alberta Health Services board meeting on Thursday in Red Deer.

“But if we erred, it was on the side of urgency. We did the right thing by moving as quickly as we could to vaccinate as many people could.”

By noon on Thursday, the third day of the H1N1 vaccination campaign, about 150,000 Albertans had been vaccinated, which is more than was vaccinated for the seasonal influenza last season, he said.

But while Duckett and the board praised health-care staff for their work to get Albertans vaccinated, they also voted to seek a wage freeze commitment from unions as part of the province’s plan to reduce spending.

The board also approved a two-year salary and wage freeze for AHS management and non-unionized workers.

“Alberta is in a very tough budgetary time,” Duckett said.

To ease the workload in hospital emergency departments due to the increase in flu patients, three influenza assessment centres in Edmonton, Calgary and Wetaskiwin will be open seven days a week starting today.

The centres will be staffed by doctors and nurses to provide assessment and limited treatment for area residents.

“These are for people who are mildly ill, not for those who want vaccine,” Duckett said.

To reduce the lengthy waits for the public at vaccination clinics, 10 more clinics will be set up next week around the province and universities and colleges will receive vaccine to hold clinics.

“But the first priority is the high-risk people,” Duckett said.

Kerry Bales, vice-president for the central zone of Alberta Health Services, said more staff were added at Thursday’s clinic at CrossRoads Church and hours of operation were extended to help address the public’s demand.

“Where we have the capacity and the vaccine, we’ll try to see if we can pull resources to increase the number of clinics and expand how often they are open,” Bales said.

With fewer health care staff in smaller Central Alberta communities, it could be more difficult to increase the number of rural clinics so some people will have to travel to get the vaccine, he said.

“We’re doing our best to put in as many clinics as possible but logistically speaking, it’s just not possible to have clinics everywhere all the time.”

The central zone is exploring ways to get the vaccine to people who can’t get out to clinics, like seniors in lodges, by using home care staff or public health workers, he said.

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