Alberta Health Services says AHS EMS is continuing to experience a 30 per cent increase in call volume. (File photo by Advocate staff)

Alberta Health Services says AHS EMS is continuing to experience a 30 per cent increase in call volume. (File photo by Advocate staff)

Surgery diversion continues at Red Deer hospital

No new permanent EMS positions announced for central Alberta

More permanent jobs are not on the way for central Alberta paramedic services despite the fact that surgery diversion at Red Deer’s hospital has increased patient transfers for almost a month.

A total of 75 general surgery cases have been diverted from Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre since the temporary diversion began April 29.

On Wednesday, the province announced 60 new and 40 temporary emergency medical services (EMS) positions for Calgary and Edmonton, while 10 existing positions in central Alberta will be extended until March 2023.

Originally hired in 2021, the central Alberta positions have assisted with short-notice staffing challenges, including illness and fatigue.

NDP health critic David Shepherd said the UCP is simply re-announcing previous initiatives and funding and called for transparency and accountability to address the growing crisis in health care.

“The health care crisis has expanded beyond COVID-19. The UCP must transparently tell Albertans what is happening and what will be done to address it,” said Shepherd at a press conference in Edmonton.

“We believe that providing frequent updates on doctor recruitment, ambulance wait times, and cancelled and diverted surgeries is an important and essential first step.”


Temporary closure of central Alberta emergency department

He said just a few weeks ago 14 ambulances were lined up outside Red Deer hospital while staff dealt with high volumes of seriously ill patients and patient transfers to other facilities.

These diversions can also cause surgeries in other facilities to be cancelled or diverted so Red Deer’s patients aren’t the only ones impacted, he said.

Elsewhere in central Alberta, a lack of doctors shut down Stettler’s emergency department for the day on Wednesday, and Sylvan Lake Ambulatory Care Service was closed early for the day.

“Situations like this have become much too frequent under the UCP. There are currently 20 communities with fully or partially closed hospitals putting more pressure on surrounding communities and urban hospitals,” Shepherd said.


Sylvan lake urgent care service closed until 3 p.m. today

Temporary general surgery diversion began at 5 p.m. on April 29 in Red Deer due to a shortage of clinical assistants who support the general surgery program, and a number of other factors. As of 10 a.m. on May 25, a total of 75 surgery cases have been diverted.

During that same period, 105 general surgery cases (both urgent and scheduled) have been completed at the hospital.

Alberta Health Services said the hospital continues to support emergency cases that cannot be transferred, as well as patients with scheduled procedures. Six general surgery procedures were scheduled for Wednesday, in addition to any emergency cases that arise. On-call coverage also continues for existing inpatients.

“AHS is working hard to resume normal surgical services at the site. The situation is being reviewed and evaluated regularly as AHS’ recruitment efforts for key positions like clinical assistants to support the general surgery program continue. Interviews have been underway in recent days and there are promising candidates,” AHS said in a statement.

“The diversion will be lifted as soon as possible.”

Recruitment is also underway for three clinical assistants for anesthesia, as well as cardiology, general internal medicine and emergency department physicians.

“We continue to work closely with our physicians and staff to ensure they are supported.”

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NDP health critic David Shepherd was outside Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre on May 2, 2022 to speak about the deepening crisis at the hospital, and called for a plan to address parking lot medicine and cancelled surgeries. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)