Not only were Red Deer emergency surgery patients diverted to other hospitals in the past two months — some were shocked to find out they were also responsible to find a way to get there.
On Tuesday, Alberta Health Services (AHS) announced that Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s temporary diversion program for some emergency general surgery patients had finally come to an end after more than two months.
But Conrad Lennie, of Penhold, was one of the patients who was told he had to go to Camrose to have surgery, and that there was no ambulance available to transport him from Red Deer.
Lennie found out he needed an appendectomy after arriving at Red Deer’s emergency department in terrible pain on the evening of May 29.
“It was the early hours of the morning and when you’re told a hospital facility can’t do an operation the usual thing that happens is you get transported somewhere else. Usually, you don’t have to find your own way,” said his wife Kim.
She said they don’t blame the hospital staff and appreciate all they do, but getting an ambulance shouldn’t be a problem, especially in Alberta.
“I can’t imagine if you were someone living here by yourself, just moved here, and you don’t have anyone, what you would have done? It’s kind of scary. I think you probably would have had to take a cab.”
She said her husband was sent home with antibiotics and they were too worried to sleep fearing his appendix might burst. With their young child at home with a cold, his brother, who also lives in Penhold, drove him to Camrose five hours later.
About 10 days ago, a 21-year-old who also needed an emergency appendectomy had to rely on her mother to drive her to Camrose when there were no ambulances available.
AHS said relying on private vehicles to move a patient is not a routine practice.
“However in a situation where a patient’s clinical assessment and condition is considered stable and it is safe to do so, a private vehicle may be used to ensure appropriate use of resources or obviate the need for the patient to wait for transport by EMS. Communication with the patient is essential in these circumstances,” an AHS statement said.
Red Deer fire medic Brad Readman said more and more patients were having to arrange their own transportation.
Readman, who is also vice-president with Alberta Professional Fire Fighters & Paramedics Association, said emergency personnel are also waiting longer on scene for ambulances.
“We’re having wait times of 45 minutes to a hour and a half on scene for a fire truck waiting for an ambulance to show up to transfer a patient,” he said.
“As a service provider, I have personally waited on scene for 39 minutes during a cardiac arrest for an ambulance to show up.”
He added there are just not enough workers to staff ambulances and the problem will only get worse as the summer progresses and staff take vacations.
“It’s a dire time. I’ve been with the City of Red Deer for almost 18 years, and this is probably the worst I’ve seen for EMS in the city for sure.”
And he said when it comes to reducing the stress on Red Deer’s emergency department, AHS could look at setting up two urgent care centres, like the one in Sylvan Lake, for patients that don’t need to be admitted to hospital.
“If we had two of those in Red Deer, one on the south and one on the north, that would alleviate the pressures of the hospital and I think would solve a lot of our problems. But again staffing is a huge concern across the board,” Readman said.
AHS said surgery diversion was lifted following the recruitment of six new clinical assistants. Diversions began in part after two clinical assistants, who supported the hospital’s general surgery program, left to further their medical education and training.
Clinical assistants support surgeons in case consults, referral reviews, caring for surgical inpatients, and assist in emergency surgeries within the general surgery program.
A total of 149 emergency general surgery patients were diverted from Red Deer’s hospital between April 29 and July 4 due to staffing and other issues.
Procedures included conditions like appendicitis, bowel resections, laparotomies, and gallbladder removals.
Depending on their condition, patients were diverted to other surgical sites in the Central Zone — including Camrose, Rocky Mountain House and Drumheller — or to facilities in Edmonton and Calgary.
“We acknowledge that the temporary diversion of some general surgery cases caused strain and anxiety for those patients who were impacted, and we are grateful for their patience during this time,” said AHS in a statement.
“We are also extremely grateful to all our staff and physicians at RDRHC, who continue to work tirelessly to support and care for patients.”
Patients who needed emergency surgeries, were medically unstable for transport, and those needing scheduled general surgery procedures continued to be supported in Red Deer. During the diversion, 332 general surgeries (both urgent and scheduled) were completed in Red Deer.