Two Red Deer ER doctors are among physicians alarmed about Alberta Health Services’ lack of response to bed closures and overflowing emergency departments.
Dr. John Colebrook and Dr. Tim Gash were among a dozen doctors who signed a letter to AHS CEO Verna Yiu on behalf of emergency medicine section with the Alberta Medical Association.
Dr. Paul Parks, president of AMA’s emergency medicine section, told the Advocate that in the last two or three months, emergency departments like the one in Red Deer are seeing as much as 20 per cent more patients than before COVID-19.
“A lot of that deferred care, where patients couldn’t get care, or didn’t seek care, or avoided care because of the pandemic, are now their issues, their medical conditions have gotten to the point where they have to come in and seek care,” Parks said.
“We’re seeing that very significant bump. That’s happening at the exact same time that we’re having very significant bed closures because of staffing issues.”
He said Red Deer’s emergency department is routinely at overcapacity so patients are stuck waiting for care.
The letter to AHS states, “Emergency physicians are collectively concerned that if action is not taken immediately we may be challenged in our ability to continue to provide Albertans with safe and timely emergency care across the province.”
Doctors said most emergency departments were also overwhelmed because of increased mental health and addiction illness, and increased EMS volumes.
“Increasing ED volumes and complexity, in addition to significant staffing pressures and shortages, are being compounded by fatigue and complexity of continuing to deal with more than 18 months of a very difficult pandemic,” the letter said.
Doctors said a recent editorial by Yiu downplayed the significance of bed closures and increasing staff issues.
Recently seven beds in the 46-bed emergency department at the Red Deer hospital reopened. The beds had been closed since July 12 and AHS said they were opened on a rotating basis throughout the closure when staff were available, and have been all fully reopened as of Aug. 12.
Parks said every hospital is getting hit very hard with staffing issues.
“There aren’t going to be any quick easy fixes. It’s a tough position,” Parks said.
A statement from AHS said that it understands the pressures emergency departments have been under, both pre-pandemic and during the pandemic, and acknowledges the concerns the physicians noted in their letter.
“The op-ed was intended to share information with the public and provide reassurance that the healthcare system remains safe and accessible to all Albertans, recognizing that we have temporary hospital bed reductions occurring at some sites. Temporary hospital bed reductions, particularly in rural sites, have been seen in previous years,” AHS said.
“There are pressures in our sites as we see an increase in COVID cases, increased visits to our emergency departments, as well as increased competition for health-care staff. We continue to work hard to ensure that staff and physicians are supported.”
AHS said it was reaching out to physicians directly to discuss the issues.
“We truly appreciate the contributions of healthcare professionals and the hard work and efforts that they have made during the pandemic and continue to make under current conditions to provide the best care for patients. We are working with our health-care teams to manage these pressures.”
Parks said doctors will urgently try to meet with AHS and start working on some solutions.