In June more than 7,000 people were waiting for surgery in central Alberta, and 45.2 per cent of them were waiting longer than they should, according to new provincial data.
The Alberta Surgical Initiative Dashboard, shows a total of 7,309 people were on the surgery wait list in Alberta Health Services Central zone.
Surgeries were postponed when waves of COVID-19 struck the province and the wait list has fluctuated a bit. In November 2020, there were 7,144 waiting in Central zone, in January 2021 a total of 7,441 waited, and in April 2021 there were 6,938.
Dr. Keith Wolstenholme said the Alberta Surgical Initiative is suppose to help dig hospitals out of surgery backlogs created by the COVID-19 and to keep up with recommended wait times for surgery.
“I think that’s a great idea, but great ideas need to be followed through with human resources and investment in infrastructure. And that’s just not our reality right now,” said the Red Deer orthopedic surgeon.
“If we don’t get any more operating rooms in Red Deer or central Alberta, then you’re never going to dig your way out. We were running at over 100 per capacity before this all started. To try to say that we’re going to go to 125 or 150 per cent, it’s honestly not realistic, not currently with the restrictions we have with infrastructure and human resources, physicians and nurses.”
He said Central zone provides excellent care for urgent health issues, but scheduled surgeries suffer when resources get tight. Trauma surgery takes priority in the summer when more people are involved in outdoor activities.
“Surgical wait times are just getting longer and longer right now for us. We’ve got limited access to the OR especially over the summer. Patients keep getting injured.”
He said morale is also pretty low.
“People definitely feel overworked, overwhelmed, probably under appreciated certainly by government,” Wolstenholme said.
NPD health critic David Shepherd said staff shortages have gotten worse to the point of rolling closures of acute care beds across the province, including six beds this month at Rocky Mountain House Health Centre.
He said those facilities will soon be hit with a backlog of patients.
“Folks are going to be coming in who have not received care for months. They’re going to be in much worse condition. They are going to need more help, and thanks to these decisions by Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Premier Jason Kenney, we have less acute care beds to help them. We have less doctors available. We have less nurses on the ground. That’s just going to make the pressure worse,” Shepherd said.