Hospital staff shortages continue: Grey Nuns in Edmonton faces reduced service levels

The Grey Nuns Hospital in Edmonton is now the latest in a string of health care facilities in Alberta facing bed closures or service reductions.

In an internal letter from Covenant Health that CTV News Edmonton obtained, the hospital operator said “unforeseen medical leaves of several staff in rapid succession” were to blame for a lack of endoscopy coverage at the hospital.

Starting Sunday, there would be no weekday nursing coverage from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. and no weekend nursing coverage from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. in the endoscopy unit.

There would be staff on site to triage or direct patients to other facilities in the Edmonton health zone.

“The Grey Nuns Hospital Endoscopy Department currently does not have the nursing complement to cover evening and night call on the weekdays and night call on the weekends,” the letter read.

Marguerite Watson, Covenant Health spokesperson, told CTV News Edmonton in a statement that the endoscopy unit at the Grey Nuns would operate at 80 per cent outpatient capacity.

“(This is) as a result of staffing coverage issues due to pre-approved staff vacations and unexpected absences for non-COVID-related medical concerns,” Watson said.

She added that no other departments at the hospital currently face service impacts of that level.

“Unit leadership is working closely with the site and the Edmonton Zone to ensure any resultant impacts to patient care are minimized,” the spokesperson added. “We remain committed to ensuring all patients receive safe, high quality care.”

Reduced service is expected to be in effect until Aug. 3.

The Grey Nuns is not the first hospital or health care site to temporarily reduce service levels.

Rural hospitals across the province have faced bed closures and shortages. Earlier this month the Royal Alexandra hospital – the largest in Edmonton – closed six beds in their emergency room.

On Friday, another 12 beds were closed at that facility until receiving morning staff relief.

Additionally, Fort Vermillion’s St. Theresa General Hospital emergency department announced on Friday that it would have no overnight physician coverage temporarily until the end of the month.

DISTURBING AND UNPRECEDENTED: NDP

David Shepherd, NDP health critic and MLA for Edmonton-Centre, told CTV News Edmonton in an interview that the reductions in health care service across Alberta should concern everyone.

“Frankly, it’s very disturbing and utterly unprecedented,” Shepherd said.

“They are no longer able to provide the full range of those services at the Grey Nuns Hospital. Which means patients will have to travel further. Patients in hospital will have to be transferred by ambulance.”

In a media availability last week, Minister of Health Tyler Shandron acknowledged that July would be a month where the heath care system would face “pressure” due to vacations and the pandemic.

“The minister has said, ‘I expected this. I knew this was going to happen,’” Shepherd added. “He seems to say he is okay that we are having to close beds at unprecedented levels across the province including now at two of our busiest hospitals in Edmonton.”

Lorian Hardcastle, a University of Calgary associate professor and expert in health law and policy, said the current situation is concerning as the health care system has not fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic and adverse relations with the provincial government.

“Certainly right now we’re seeing a more burnt out healthcare workforce, more so than probably we’ve ever seen,” Hardcastle said. “Seeing how that will effect recruitment and retention does make this an interesting case study.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Ryan Harding