Up to eight Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) nursing officers will be ready on Monday to help Alberta’s beleaguered health-care system, but some medical experts believe the provincial government must take more action.
Bill Blair, the federal minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, confirmed in a statement on Saturday that the CAF members will be in place by Monday, Oct. 4, and be ready to provide care for COVID-19 patients.
In addition, Blair said planning to send 20 medical professionals from the Canadian Red Cross to augment ICU staff is still underway. No timeline was given as to when the federal minister expected the medical staff to be in place.
“We are always ready to help Canadians across the country during difficult times, and this pandemic has been no different,” Blair said in the statement.
“The Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Red Cross, and health professionals have stepped up time and again over the past 19 months to answer the call to protect people, and I want to thank all those on the front lines who continue to keep Canadians safe.”
HEALTH-CARE DEMAND CONTINUES
As of Friday, the province had 263 patients in ICUs with COVID-19 – the fourth-highest amount of patients to date. More than 1,060 patients were in hospitals. Another 53 patients were receiving care in ICUs for non-COVID-19 related needs.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) said the province had 374 total ICU beds – including 201 additional surge spaces, a 116 per cent increase over the normal baseline of 173 beds.
According to AHS, the provincial ICU capacity as of Friday was 84 per cent. Without surge capacity, that number would be 183 per cent.
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The Edmonton zone has the most patients in hospital, with 316, and the most in ICU, 115. The Calgary zone and Central zone have 284 and 186 patients, respectively.
No other zone has more than 100 patients in ICU, while Calgary has 91.
On Friday, AHS revealed that the Elk Point Emergency Department would be without physician coverage from 8 a.m. to 8 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday in October due to a shortage of on-site physicians.
“This is a temporary measure,” AHS said. “We will keep the community updated as physician recruitment efforts continue and more information becomes available.
Nursing staff will remain at the site to provide triage and referrals for patients to surrounding communities. AHS said residents of Elk Point and the region the emergency department serves will be re-routed to St. Paul – 35 kilometres away – if they require care.
“We are thankful for the support of surrounding health-care centres and medical staff and would like to thank the community for their patience and understanding during this time,” AHS said.
Elk Point is located on Highway 41 and is about 215 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.
As of Friday, AHS said there were 22 other active temporary bed or space reductions at facilities across the province, most having to do with staffing pressures, including Red Deer, Ponoka, Edson, Grande Prairie, and High Level.
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HEALTH-CARE STAFF WORRY OUTSIDE HELP IS NOT ENOUGH
Despite numerous calls for temporary closures or firebreaks, Premier Jason Kenney said the province is not planning on implementing any.
“What we are seeing as a general trend is an apparent plateauing of cases,” Kenney said at a media availability on Thursday.
Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room physician in Calgary, disagreed with the premier’s statement.
“It’s not like we’re plateauing at 20 cases a day,” he told CTV News. “We’re plateauing at 1,700 cases a day.”
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Public health expert Lorian Hardcastle believes Kenney is continuing to downplay the situation Albertans are facing.
“You really get a sense (from him) that this is an issue we can contain, we can increase capacity,” Hardcastle said. “It doesn’t send the urgent message that I think is needed.”
Dr. James Talbot, former chief medical officer of health for Alberta, told CTV News that the way the province is handling the COVID-19 pandemic is “callous.”
“We’d like to know how much longer we can expect to see 15 to 20 people die (daily) in Alberta,” he said. “We’d like to know how much longer we can expect to see that stress on hospitals.
“We’re grateful for the outside help, but it’s not going to buy us time.”
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Touria Izri