Patients are waiting longer than they should for scheduled and emergency surgery at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre where about 10 more anesthesiologists are needed, says a local surgeon.
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Keith Wolstenholme said with only nine anesthesiologists right now, timely access to surgery is further out of reach.
“We don’t even utilize all of the ORs we have. Every day operating rooms sit empty because we don’t have enough anesthesiologists to staff them,” Wolstenholme said.
He said operating rooms dedicated to patients with medical emergencies like a broken leg, appendicitis, gallbladder, are the first to be shut down when there are not enough anesthesiologists which also forces those patients to wait longer in hospital for surgery creating significant ‘bedlock.’
“It’s not unheard of for somebody to get admitted for a tibia fracture, for example, and wait seven to eight days in the hospital for surgery, where as in normal times they might wait one to two days.”
He said other Alberta hospitals are also facing an anesthesiology shortage, but it is being felt more acutely in smaller centres like Red Deer where a reduction in surgeries could also impact surgery programs.
“If surgeons can’t reliably get to the operating room, pretty soon surgeons are not going to stay,” Wolstenholme said.
Alberta Health Services said at this time it continues aggressively recruiting for anesthesiologists to practice in Red Deer and where there are actually 14 anesthesiologists currently.
“Since January, two new anesthesiologists have been recruited for Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre and are already working at the hospital with a third new recruit set to begin August 1. A further three have been recruited and are awaiting a start date for their required assessments through the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta before beginning at RDRHC,” AHS said in a statement.
“We are working closely with the surgical department and site leadership, as well as anesthesiologists and surgical teams, to support recruitment and ongoing access for surgical patients.”
Dr. Luanne Metz, the Alberta NDP’s health critic for emergency and surgical care, said it’s not enough to say how many registered anesthesiologists there are in the province.
“It doesn’t tell us whether they’re covering the hard work, like being available for traumas in our hospitals, or whether they’re practising in private surgical facilities which do both publicly-funded and privately-funded surgeries,” said Metz about private facilities where new hires could be working on hip replacements for patients who come from outside Alberta.
She said it’s also important to know how many hours they work to determine if any progress has been made to address the shortage and the impact to patients. But she anticipates that the health data released will continue to be sparse and difficult to interpret.
Metz said she was not surprised Alberta is facing this shortage which was predicted a while ago. The focus should be to build back the workforce, and build back trust.
“We’re a place that has a pretty distrustful environment between health care providers and our government. People in our system are very unhappy. It’s truly hard to recruit people to your team when you’re not really sure you want to be there yourself,” Metz said.