Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre continues to divert some surgery patients as part of a temporary surgery diversion strategy. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre continues to divert some surgery patients as part of a temporary surgery diversion strategy. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)

Alberta Medical Association president issues dire warning

‘The scale of this crisis is daunting’

Alberta’s health care system is in crisis, says the president of the Alberta Medical Association.

“The scale of this crisis is daunting,” said Vesta Michelle Warren in a letter on the AMA website to members following a recent update from the AMA’s governing body.

“COVID and the care deficit are a big part of it, but most issues predate the pandemic and are now much worse. The care deficit itself is generating its own secondary deficit.”

She said the lack of doctors is leading to burnout and poor health among doctors and other health care workers, but she was hopeful that a new provincial agreement can be negotiated to bring some stability to help retain doctors.

For close to three weeks in Red Deer, a shortage of clinical assistants who support the general surgery program is among the reasons that some surgery patients continue to be diverted from Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

Recruitment at the hospital is also underway for cardiology and general internal medicine physicians, with additional physicians being sought for the Emergency Department. The regional hospital had a brief gap in on-call coverage for general internal medicine on May 8, but no patients were diverted out of the zone as a result.


AHS hopes temporary surgical diversions from Red Deer hospital will soon be lifted

Warren said specialty services increasingly lack coverage as physicians struggle to meet the demand in their community practices while still maintaining hospital services.

“Emergency room doctors, surgeons and other hospital-based physicians are discharging patients with complex and chronic health care needs and trying to keep them well and safe when there is no family physician to assume their ongoing primary care. Without access to family doctors, more Albertans are showing up in emergency and acute care when adequate primary care would have prevented or mitigated disease or death.”

Many doctors are desperate to find family doctors for their communities following the departure of colleagues or early retirements, she said.

“Family physicians who do remain are urgently seeking ways to manage thousands of orphaned patients on top of their own overflowing patient rosters.”


Some Albertans are waiting too long for ambulances to arrive, AHS data shows

Recent data from Medimap showed Red Deerians have one of the longest waits in Alberta to see a walk-in clinic doctor, possibly because residents can’t find family doctors, and there are not enough walk-in clinics.

Warren said the opioid crisis is also maintaining its deadly grip. Doctors from big-city emergency departments, at clinics in both inner-cities and wealthy neighbourhoods, and with rural practices are seeing the impact of opioid and drug toxicity.

So far this year, opioid-related overdose fatalities have only been released for the month of January, and Red Deer had six deaths that month. Last year, Red Deer had 40 opioid-related overdose deaths.

Furthermore, there have been waves of pediatric patients with eating disorders, suicidal ideation, depression and those who self-harm, she said.

“Problems can’t be addressed until they are out in the open. We must find immediate, short and long-term solutions to all these problems. This begins by helping everyone understand what is happening in our system.”

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HealthcareRed Deer Regional Hospital Centre