Alberta Health Services has announced the temporary closure of seven beds in the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s emergency department.
The closure of the treatment spaces is due to a staffing shortage, AHS said in a statement Friday afternoon. The department continues to be operational – 49 spaces remain open for patients.
AHS is working to resolve staffing challenges as quickly as possible on multiple fronts, including through hiring additional staff, the statement confirmed.
“Six of the 19 positions that have been posted since June 15 have been filled at this time, with staff in the orientation process. We anticipate they will be working independently in the (emergency department) by mid-August,” said AHS in the statement.
“We will reopen spaces as soon as we are able to. Until then, we have been working to bring in supports from ED trained staff in other units when possible.”
The Central zone has the most emergency department spaces temporarily closed in the province – at seven – out of 275 in the zone.
In a virtual press conference Friday morning, Alberta Health Services confirmed six ED spaces are closed in the Edmonton zone – with 13 closed in total across the province out of 1,221.
As of Thursday, there are two sites in the province where emergency room patients are being diverted, one of which is at Elk Point in East Central Alberta.
“We really don’t like to see this happen, but it happens every year. Especially in the summer,” said Deb Gordon, AHS vice president and chief operating officer Friday morning during the conference.
“It’s not a result of a policy or resourcing change.”
Gordon noted that while the closures create a problem, more than 98 per cent of beds in acute and emergency care are available provincewide.
In the Central zone, 36 acute care beds (out of 1,093) are temporarily closed. The number is the highest in the North zone where 89 out of 944 acute care beds are closed. There are 8,513 acute care beds in total in the province with 125 temporarily closed.
According to the NDP, there have been closures, cancelled surgeries and closed emergency rooms in Rocky Mountain House, Lacombe, Rimbey, Elk Point and numerous other communities across the province.
The NDP also says the closures are due to a critical shortage of frontline staff, a situation worsened by a provincial government alienating nurses by demanding wage rollbacks in the current round of negotiations.
Gordon said the closures are a result of summer vacations and tired workers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have more individuals employed today than ever, but people are tired,” Gordon said.
“Many of them have been doing far more than their usual hours over the past 16 months. They need and deserve a break.”
She also explained that most of the staffing issues exist in the North zone, an area where they typically have problems in the summer months.
“It’s a challenge for us, not a new challenge,” she said.
AHS noted that there are 760 registered nurses across the province who were in temporary COVID-19 positions and will return to regular positions. Typically, they have about a six per cent vacancy rate for regular RN positions in June and that number was 6.8 per cent in June 2021.
Gordon added that in the summer AHS typically ramps down elective surgeries to give nurses and doctors time off. With the pandemic, they have geared up services to help give Albertans the services they need.
“We’re fortunate to have the resources to do that, but the reality is there are only so many skilled people available,” she said.
AHS is aiming to fill existing vacancies by the end of August and September.
—With files from The Canadian Press.