With about 80 per cent of COVID-19 ICU beds occupied in Alberta, and the current surge in coronavirus cases, it’s only a matter of time before patients from elsewhere in the province end up in Red Deer’s hospital, says a city councillor.
On Tuesday, 57 patients occupied Alberta’s 70 intensive care pandemic beds.
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable for us to assume that once the Calgarys and Edmontons reach capacity, and they’re sending out signals they’re getting close, that their folks, not necessarily their COVID folks, but, for example, their folks in ICU and critical care, would be moved to Red Deer,” Ken Johnston said.
He said cases have also risen locally, and like a tsunami or avalanche, the impact could be huge.
“These numbers that are rolling at us now don’t foretell what the hospital system will look like three or four weeks down the road.
“The tsunami starts slowly and builds up, and it’s very, very quiet. By the time people see it, it’s time to run.”
He said forecasting by Alberta Health Services needs to show what kind of pressure the health system can expect.
If a major tragedy with multiple local victims happens during the pandemic, how would Red Deer hospital respond, he wonders.
A report to city council on Monday provided some details on COVID-19 preparations at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, where there is one inpatient unit with 36 beds for COVID positive, or presumptive patients, outside the ICU.
The hospital can accommodate up to 20 patients requiring a ventilator, and ICU beds are available for COVID patients requiring ventilators.
Red Deer’s hospital has the only ICU beds in the central zone.
Hospitals in Wetaskiwin and Camrose have high-observation beds, but neither site is equipped to manage ventilated patients other than for stabilization and transport.
Sixty-two beds outside Red Deer in the central zone, which are not held empty, can be used for COVID or acute care patients.
Acute care spaces in rural hospitals, such as Hardisty and Consort, have been temporarily converted into continuing care spaces to create single-patient populations in rural areas to better protect the most vulnerable.
Johnston said he’s been getting feedback from a variety of hospital staff on the handling of the COVID crisis. An email from a doctor predicted more cases were definitely on the way.
“He said he was scared. He said, ‘Clearly I’m going to watch my patients die of COVID in Red Deer.’”
Besides the hectic pace on the job, some staff are just worn down by public opinion that the pandemic is no big deal, the city councillor said.
“We really need to sit back and get an appreciation, and an understanding, of what it’s like to cope from a health professionals’ perspective.
“We have the best technology, the finest laboratory, cancer-fighting machines and radiation, and all those things. But delivering that service is a flesh-and-blood system called people,” Johnston said.
“When you think of the risks they take every day — you’re actually going into the war zone. The mental stress and strain on our folks is considerable. There’s physical toll, a mental toll and an emotional toll.”