A three-night shortage of cardiologists at Red Deer hospital this week meant a diversion protocol had to be implemented for rural patients with heart problems.
If cardiac patients showed up at hospitals in Innisfail, Rocky Mountain House, Stettler or any other rural community in Central zone last Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday nights, instead of being transferred to Red Deer hospital to be assessed by a specialist, they would have been sent to Edmonton and Calgary facilities.
A group called BedHuntersAB (@ABBedClosures) publicized this information about the lack of cardiologists at Red Deer hospital from March 21 to 23 and the diversion procedure for rural patients through a post on social media earlier this week.
An AHS spokesperson confirmed that temporary overnight diversion measures were needed because of a gap in on-call physician coverage at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre. Attempts to arrange replacement physicians (locum coverage) to fill these gaps in coverage were unsuccessful.
According to AHS, no rural patients actually had to be transferred out of the Central zone on Monday through Wednesday nights this week.
Many rural hospitals – especially those in the north and south edges of the Central Zone – already refer patients who need specialized cardiac care into other zones, based on whichever hospital is closest, added the AHS spokesperson.
However, being sent to Edmonton or Calgary for assessment would not be the closest option for communities proximate to Red Deer.
Patients who show up directly at Red Deer hospital’s emergency room with chest complaints during the diversion procedure could still be seen by an on-call cardiologist the following morning if their needs were non-urgent, said the AHS spokesperson.
But if urgent cardiac intervention was required, they would have to be be transferred to Edmonton or Calgary, as usual. Red Deer hospital doesn’t yet have its own cardiac catheterization lab. While one was recently approved for the facility, no timeline has yet been released by Alberta Health for when it will be constructed.
According to AHS, gaps in on-call physician coverage are not unusual. Usually locum doctors can be brought in to resolve these shortfalls. “It’s only when efforts to find alternative coverage have been thoroughly exhausted do we look at implementing diversion procedures as a last resort.”
The spokesperson said AHS is still continuing to try to attract additional cardiology physicians to Red Deer hospital to prevent such gaps from occurring.