Dozens of elective surgeries cannot be done each week because of operating room staff shortages at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.
There are not enough available anesthesiologists or specially trained nurses to keep all of the elective surgery operating rooms open, said Red Deer orthopedic surgeon Dr. Keith Wolstenholme on Monday.
“Things are a little frustrating right now,” said Wolstenholme. “Since June 28 we have essentially shut down two elective (operating) theatres per day.”
As many as five elective surgeries, such as knee and hip replacements, are done daily in each operating room, meaning dozens of operations are not being performed that could be if the resources were there.
“Honestly, that’s expected to last at least until Christmas,” he said.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) spokesperson Kerry Williamson said no surgeries have been postponed at Red Deer’s hospital but there have been fewer elective surgery operating room slots open compared to previous summers. The number of surgeries performed is about 25 per cent down from peak.
“This is due to staffing challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as some vacancies in nursing and anesthesiology,” said Williamson.
AHS is working to address the situation, including running more operating rooms in evenings and increasing surgical hours at hospitals in Olds and Stettler so they can take more cases whenever possible.
“Transferring surgical cases to rural sites is not new. This is an extension of our existing practices and an example of how the sites within the Central zone routinely work together to respond to increased demand.”
Additional in-house training is also underway so there are more nurses available to work in operating rooms (OR).
“Three nurses are currently in the process of completing their specialized OR training, while others are returning this month from positions supporting the pandemic response, which will help address OR staffing challenges in the short-term.”
As well, three new anesthesiologists have been recruited for Red Deer, and another four recruits are in various stages of assessments and credentialing.
“That’s all fantastic news if that comes to pass,” said Wolstenholme.
But he is doubtful the situation will be turned around for many months yet.
The problem is complex. The lack of anesthesiologists and trained nurses is part of it.
Using other hospitals helps but is not a complete answer because the hospitals in Stettler and Olds are not able to handle the most complex elective surgeries that require post-operation hospital stays.
Meanwhile, patients already on lengthy waiting lists for knee or hip replacements will have to live longer in pain until they get their surgery.
“These patients are already facing two-year wait lists before surgery. (The current situation) would absolutely add months and months to wait lists.”