Last Friday was the third time since mid-December that surgery patients have been diverted from the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.
Surgeries were redirected last week just days after 14 ambulances were lined up outside the hospital while Alberta Health Services juggled high volumes of seriously ill patients and patient transfers to other facilities.
Alberta’s NDP says the UCP needs to tell Albertans their plan to restore stability in health care in Red Deer.
“The UCP’s mismanagement of health has hurt health care across central Alberta. Hanna, Drumheller, Three Hills, Sundre, Rocky Mountain House and Rimbey are all experiencing space and bed reductions in their hospitals. This puts even more pressure on the Red Deer Regional Hospital, and the folks who work inside. Frankly enough is enough,” said NDP health critic David Shepherd outside the hospital on Monday.
“The root cause of these issues is the repeated decisions of this government during a global pandemic to act last and act least. They pushed our health care system to the brink, and all of the health care workers that make it possible utterly exhausted.”
On Friday emergency general surgeries were temporarily being diverted from the Red Deer facility to other communities due to a shortage of clinical assistants who support the general surgery program, and a number of other factors.
AHS said stable emergency patients were the ones being diverted. Patients with scheduled procedures, emergency cases that could not safely be transferred, and on-call coverage for existing inpatients continued to be provided care in Red Deer.
Depending on their condition, patients were diverted to other surgical sites in the Central Zone or to facilities in Edmonton and Calgary.
Alberta’s health minister says a handful of surgery patients had to be temporarily transferred out of Red Deer hospital on the weekend due to staffing issues.
Jason Copping says seven patients had to be moved to other facilities out of 250 weekly surgeries completed at the hospital. Patients were diverted between 5 p.m. April 29 and 8 a.m. May 2.
Copping added a shortage of assistants and doctors who help during and after operations was the main reason behind the transfers.
He says the moves are a sign that the health-care network can react effectively and flexibly in stressful circumstances.
Alberta Health Services says the transfers didn’t include scheduled operations or emergency procedures.
“Patients who were expecting necessary surgeries were told they would be taking the highway to a different community. Not only does this create anxiety and uncertainty, we never should have found ourselves here in this situation,” Shepherd added.
“We have yet to receive any answers, or information from the UCP, on how the challenges of central Alberta and Red Deer will be addressed. Unfortunately, it seems the UCP is more concerned about internal conflicts than providing Albertans with the care they deserve.”
He said municipal leaders, hospital workers, and central Albertans also deserve to see the detailed plans for the $1.8 billion expansion of the hospital announced in February when Premier Jason Kenney was preparing for his leadership review.
“I think folks have a right to be a little bit skeptical about the timing. They want to see specific plans and timelines for the work this government is promising to do. As we can see with the continuing crisis here this is not something that we can afford to stall on any longer. This work needs to get underway,” Shepherd said.
AHS said the Red Deer emergency department continues to be busy with high patient volumes due to multiple factors, including high numbers of seriously ill patients, COVID-19 cases and traumas. High volumes in emergency, combined with high numbers of existing inpatients, can impact patient flow throughout the facility.
Efforts continue to create additional capacity through patient repatriation, transferring patients to rural sites to continue their recovery and discharging patients home with enhanced home care supports.
The hospital is also working with the Emergency Strategic Clinical Network on ways to decrease EMS offloading times in emergency to help release crews from hospital sooner.
AHS said recruitment is underway to fill three general surgery clinical assistant positions, as well as three positions for clinical assistants for anesthesia. Recruitment is also underway for cardiology and general internal medicine physicians, with additional physicians being sought for the emergency department.
Recruitment continues to fill four operating room nurse vacancies at the site. The site continues to offer in-house operating room training for staff who are interested. Those currently undergoing the training are expected to complete it in July/August.
Between Nov. 1 and April 30, there were about 104 hires at Red Deer hospital in the priority areas of operating room, emergency department, and intensive care unit.
With Files from The Canadian Press