Red Deer hospital is under “intense stress,” with the ICU pushing 200 per cent capacity and at least 15 COVID-positive patients on ventilators, say doctors.
Dr. Kym Jim, Dr. Luc Benoit and Dr. Keith Wolstenholme, spoke out this week to urge central Albertans to take virus prevention seriously and follow all AHS guidelines.
“The hospital is coping, but it’s under intense stress like we’ve never seen,” said Dr. Jim, who practises internal medicine.
“Our ICU is operating at (nearly) twice the normal amount of patients… This has never happened at the hospital before,” Jim added. “We’ve never had so many people on ventilators.”
The 12-bed intensive care unit has also taken over six cardiac care beds — and there’s still a space crunch.
Dr. Benoit, a local intensive care and respiratory care physician, said COVID-positive patients are regularly getting transferred in from smaller hospitals in Central zone, so patients have to be doubled up in spaces meant for one person.
“The ICU has had more patients than it’s ever had,” added Benoit — and the people occupying intensive care beds are more acutely ill, with all on ventilators after testing positive for the new coronavirus.
While frontline health care workers have been pulling together and doing their best, Jim said “this is something we need people’s help with. People have to take this (pandemic) seriously.”
The doctors urge everyone to wear masks, distance and sanitize, saying the fewer central Albertans come down with COVID-19, the further the hospital’s already stretched resources will go.
At the same time, they want people with serious symptoms — such as chest pain or high fever — to keep coming to the hospital’s emergency room to get checked out.
“If people ignore their symptoms there is higher mortality,” said Wolstenholme.
The surgeon admitted “it’s a fine line to walk” when three or four hospital wards have been closed to new admissions because at least one of their patients have tested positive for the virus. “Our doors are still open, but it’s getting busy, it’s getting bad.”
Some scheduled operations have already been cancelled because “we’ve run out of beds” for post-surgical recoveries. “There’s nowhere to put people,” said Wolstenholme. “COVID is chewing up our resources.”
While cancer operations are still going ahead, some hip replacement and gallbladder surgeries are getting postponed. Wolstenholme explained that virus prevention measures require so much additional sterilization of surgical rooms between each patient that instead of four or five surgeries a day, only about two or three can be done.
With three more months of winter, “if (the pandemic) keeps going as it’s going, who knows that will happen,” said Wolstenholme.
“We aren’t out of the woods yet. In fact, we’re worse off now than we have ever been over the whole course of the pandemic, so don’t drop your guard.”
The doctors say they have never seen the hospital as busy — not even during previous H1N1 flu outbreak. “This is unprecedented,” said Jim.
Benoit knows some families are getting frustrated because they can’t come into the hospital now with their loved ones, and ICU doctors can’t always find time for telephone updates on their patients’ progress.
He is helping some acutely ill people survive COVID-19, but knows “some will die… All will take a while to recover. And some will never fully recover…”
While older people with pre-existing conditions are likelier to get more seriously ill from the virus, Benoit has seen some people in this demographic recover quicker than a younger, seemingly healthier patient.
“Statistically, nobody’s (mortality) risk is zero and nobody’s is 100 per cent.”