Chronic shortages of staff, beds and operating rooms at Red Deer hospital are creating pro-longed delays — including a 14-hour wait last weekend in the Emergency Room, say local doctors.
“It’s not good medicine, not good care,” said Dr. Keith Wolstenholme on Monday.
A photo recently posted on social media showed the estimated time to see a doctor at 2:23 a.m. on Saturday morning was 14 hours and two minutes.
According to Alberta Health Services, a high number of traumas led to this situation. AHS described staffing in the emergency department as “normal” in a statement on Sunday. “This is not unusual as estimated wait times at emergency change frequently,” depending on the level of care required and the number of patients, a spokesperson from AHS stated.
But Dr. Wolstenholme, an orthopedic surgeon, and Dr. Kym Jim, an internal medicine specialist with the Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta, say waiting times at the hospital’s emergency department have been pro-longed for the past week or 10 days. Patients waits at Red Deer’s ER always tend to rise to unacceptable levels during this winter period when accidents are compounded by flues, straining the hospital’s limited staff and resources, say the doctors.
“Every year there is a pro-longed wait time and now it has been exacerbated by COVID,” said Jim, who worries some people who need to get to emergency hear of the prolonged waits and don’t bother going, risking their health.
AHS confirmed on Sunday that the system is experiencing increasing demand, due to the surge in cases caused by the Omicron variant.
“These issues come down to a need for a hospital expansion” stressed Jim. “(It) was needed 15 years ago. We can’t wait another five years. We really need more resources in Red Deer right now to deal with these problems.”
The local situation has gone beyond sitting back and waiting for hospital construction to be completed, added Jim, when even the ongoing practise of transferring less acute Red Deer residents out of the hospital to be cared for in outlying health facilities in Lacombe, Innisfail, Rimbey and other communities isn’t solving the problem.
Wolstenholme described seeing a colleague with a big pile of files, phoning cancer patients to say their operations can’t be done in a timely manner in Red Deer, so he’s putting them into a surgical lineup in Calgary.
“It’s not like we’re a tiny site. We care for an area of 400,000 to 500,000 people but we are facing bed-lock and human resources are a big limitation,” he added.
Wolstenholme believes Red Deer hospital is short of anesthesiologists and nurses and can’t attract more — or retain existing ones — because of physical limitations, such as a shortage of beds and operating theatres.
“We are running eight (operating) theatres per day when we should be running 14 to 16,” he said. When prospective nurses and anesthesiologists hear they must work an overnight shift once every six to seven days here, compared to once in 20 to 25 days in Calgary hospitals, why would they want to come here, questioned Wolstenholme.
He described a big impact on patient care when even people with broken limbs are sometimes waiting five to seven days to have them properly set.
Both doctors hope to see a large amount of government money pegged for the construction phase of the Red Deer hospital expansion in next month’s provincial budget.
They also are pushing for some program and service changes to alleviate some of the strain on the local hospital during the construction period.
In December, Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping said in legislature that the UCP government remains committed to the Red Deer Hospital expansion. But he added it’s too early in the planning and design stage to provide detailed timelines.
“The project is currently in phase 2 of 4: Planning and design. As part of phase 2, Alberta Health Services has been engaging with members of the public as well as conducting a complete review of all components of the hospital.”
Copping added AHS is examining how many operating rooms are needed for surgical and acute care and where to build them, as well as studying how many more inpatient beds are needed and in which programs or departments to put them.