Mayor Ken Johnston was “grieved” to learn a patient died last weekend while waiting to see a doctor at Red Deer hospital’s at-capacity emergency room.
“I really struggle because I don’t want to politicize this incident. It’s beyond politics,” said Johnston, who as a member of city council has lobbied since 2015 for a Red Deer hospital expansion.
He expressed condolences to the family of the deceased person on Wednesday, and said his heart also goes out to the health care staff who are working under strained conditions.
“When the fourth busiest hospital in the province continues to be — if not adrift, then I would say continues to have issues that are not being addressed in a way that our citizens deserve… my heart is low,” added the mayor.
Whether waits of up to 14 hours at the hospital’s crowded emergency room on the weekend contributed to this patient death will be determined by a provincial review.
Alberta Health Services has acknowledged wait-times were very long at certain times over the weekend due to a surge in demand, and an increase in sick patients.
AHS did not release the deceased patient’s identity or illness on Wednesday due to privacy concerns.
However, a spokesperson said the individual was triaged and later reassessed by emergency department staff, but died while waiting for further care in an emergency department space.
The ER was fully staffed at the time, operating all available beds, ambulatory treatment chairs and trauma spaces as necessary, said the AHS spokesperson in an emailed statement.
“There are 57 spaces in the department combined, which includes spaces in the minor treatment area, which supports those with less urgent needs like suturing of minor wounds, IV therapy and orthopedic related care…
AHS is reviewing the patient care provided, circumstances of the death, and has notified the Medical Examiner.
Johnston agreed with concerned physicians who told the Advocate earlier this week that quality health care cannot be provided while patients are waiting “hours and hours” to be treated.
He personally saw the inadequacies in the hospital’s infrastructure when his late wife was admitted for heart problems in 2017. “I was shocked, saddened, angered to see (patients) put out into tub rooms and lounge areas” because there were too few hospital beds available, he said.
“I also saw the stress and anxiety on the faces of the nurses and other medical folks” because they realized this wasn’t the standard of care they wanted to provide.
Although an Alberta Health Services study recently found the hospital’s infrastructure inadequate, Johnston said the community has known this for years.
Local doctors have been calling for an expanded facility for at least 15 years. Dr. Kym Jim, of the Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta, said earlier this week, “We can’t wait another five years” until the expansion is completed. He called for interim measures to be immediately implemented to improve hospital operations.
While the UCP government agreed in 2019 to improve the local hospital, only plans and studies have been done in the ensuing three years. Johnston said he and other Red Deerians expect to see an expedited hospital expansion project, with a far greater financial contribution, in the upcoming provincial budget next month.
City officials have an upcoming meeting with Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping about the ambulance situation and intend to keep advocating for the hospital project, stressed Red Deer’s mayor.
Bonnie Denhan, a former member of now defunked Friends of Medicare group in Red Deer, said waits of up to 14 hours in Red Deer hospital’s ER are “ridiculous…. We’d really like the Red Deer hospital expansion to happen.”