As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Alberta Health Services is reassuring Albertans that hospital emergency departments are safe.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information released data on Thursday that showed emergency department visits plummeted during the early months of the pandemic.
In April, the number of emergency visits across the country was cut by half to 25,000 as potentially sick people stayed away.
Emergency department visits began to increase again as the pandemic wore on, and AHS said it is “now seeing a return to normal (emergency department) volumes.”
Health providers also urged those with urgent health conditions to visit the emergency department without fear of COVID-19.
“We understand why people may have been anxious to visit an emergency department,” says AHS in a response to questions.
“However, our hospitals and emergency departments remain safe places to come and receive care.
“We strongly encourage Albertans to seek care for any new or changing symptom they have. The health system is here for you.
“Delaying care can lead to more serious outcomes. Please, don’t delay. Speaking to your care provider about your health can help identify health concerns earlier, which can improve your health outcomes.
“If someone thinks they have a serious or life-threatening injury or illness, they should go straight to an emergency department or call 911 immediately.”
AHS says patients coming to hospitals or other health-care facilities face no increased infection risk.
“All health-care workers are asked to self-assess for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure risk using a screening tool before reporting to a site for their shift, and our frontline teams are practising continuous masking while at work.”
Any patient with COVID symptoms, or who has tested positive for the virus, is isolated from others.
“As well, stringent visitor restrictions are in place, minimizing any risk of transmission from outside of the hospital.”
Institute for Health Information researchers found, as expected, a steep drop in planned surgeries as the health-care system cancelled elective procedures.
However, researchers were surprised to see a 17 to 21 per cent decline in life-saving and urgent surgeries, such as cancer and heart bypass operations.
In Alberta, the number of surgeries fell by 34 per cent from March to June, compared with the same period in 2019. Canada-wide, the number of surgeries was down 47 per cent.
“Like many jurisdictions, AHS postponed all non-urgent, scheduled surgeries in March to free up hospital beds in advance of an expected surge in patients with COVID-19,” says AHS.
Some postponed surgeries were rescheduled beginning in May.
The rising number of cases in Alberta has led to concerns voiced by Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, that surgeries may have to be cancelled again if infection numbers cannot be brought under control.