Seven fewer beds in Red Deer’s emergency department is a pretty big blow during the summer when more accidents and injuries lead to more trauma patients, says a local orthopedic surgeon.
Late last week Alberta Health Services announced the temporary closure of the beds at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre due to a staffing shortage. Forty-nine spaces remain open for patients.
Dr. Keith Wolstenholme said less beds means waiting even longer for help.
“We were already under resourced with the amount of emergency beds we have. We know that from the various reports in the past. We actually needed more emergency beds, not less emergency beds.
“I think anyone can put together what that means. It means delays to care, and poorer outcomes. That’s a potential risk.”
In a statement on Friday AHS said its working to resolve staffing challenges as quickly as possible on multiple fronts, including through hiring additional staff.
AHS said six of the 19 positions that have been posted since June 15 have been filled at this time, with staff in the orientation process. It’s anticipated the new staff will be working independently in the emergency department by mid-August.
“Our hiring efforts continue and we will reopen spaces as soon as we are able to. Until then, we have been working to bring in supports from emergency department trained staff in other units when possible,” said AHS.
Wolstenholme said this is likely the worst nursing shortage he has seen during his 11 years practising in Red Deer.
“We’ve had some staffing challenges in the past for sure where nurses have been forced to work double (shifts). But I don’t ever remember actually physically shutting down beds, and this many. Seven beds is a lot.
“Anyone from the community who has ever had to sit in that emergency department and wait to be seen knows that it’s not a fast experience.”
AHS said the pandemic has had an impact through staff redeployment and a depletion of the available pool of casual staff across Canada. With frontline staff working extremely hard through the course of the pandemic, staff are also taking well-deserved vacation time.
Wolstenholme agreed that resources did shift to address the pandemic, but COVID-19 pressure has eased and it isn’t totally to blame for the hospital’s current staffing woes.
AHS said is also common in the summer – when staffing levels are historically lower because of vacations – for resources to be adjusted to align with staffing levels.