More scheduled surgeries in Edmonton Zone postponed to accommodate growing COVID-19 patients

Alberta Health Services announced on Monday it will postpone more scheduled surgeries and outpatient procedures immediately to make room for increased COVID-19 hospitalizations.

In a statement, AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said surgeries in the Edmonton Zone were postponed by 50 per cent on Monday and will continue to decrease access to surgery by 70 per cent later this week.

Williamson noted only priority cases will be tended to, which include some cancer, urgent and emergent surgeries.

“These surgical reductions free up space for patients who require inpatient and critical care supports and allow the redeployment of frontline staff to areas of greatest need,” he said.

The statement read an additional 54 ICU surge beds, in addition to 72 ICU funded beds, have opened up in the Edmonton Zone.

“We are able to staff these beds and respond to critical care needs for the Edmonton Zone as well as support the North and Central Zones, who have less ability to create additional critical care capacity,” Williamson said.

As of Sunday at 1 p.m., 111 of 126 ICU beds in the Edmonton Zone were filled, according to AHS.

AHS Edmonton Zone will immediately begin postponing additional scheduled elective surgeries and outpatient procedures in order to have sufficient ICU and inpatient capacity to manage the increased COVID activity across the zone and the province.

— Alberta Health Services (@AHS_media) September 13, 2021

“We do not make these decisions lightly, and we acknowledge that postponing surgeries has a significant impact on patients, their families, and their loved ones,” Williamson added.

Impacted Albertans will be contacted and their procedures will be rescheduled as soon as possible, Williamson said.

At this time AHS is not implementing the critical care triage protocol, noting it has not yet been used during the pandemic.

However, Williamson said given the significant pressure on ICUs, AHS is asking critical care teams to re-familiarize themselves with the protocol.

“We are in unprecedented territory,” Dr. James Talbot, former Chief Medical Officer of Health in Alberta, said.

“Four weeks from now we will still have rising ICU usage and it’s likely at that point we’ll be at system failure defined by having to use the triage protocol or having to find a way to transfer patients out of the province.”

The protocol is essentially a “living document” that was initially drafted during H1N1 and has been modified during COVID-19.

“These triage protocols provide a mechanism through which healthcare professionals can make the difficult decision of how to allocate resources such as ventilators and ICU beds to critically ill adult and pediatric patients when there are not enough available for everyone,” a statement from AHS read.

“That’s what the triage protocol is… It’s about who lives and who dies,” Talbot added.  

Unvaccinated COVID patients are filling up our ICU beds, which has an effect on every single Albertan that needs ICU care (COVID or not). https://t.co/xM5EX65ftZ

— Dr. Shazma Mithani (@shazmamithani) September 13, 2021

According to AHS triage would only been enacted when all available resources for critical care have been utilized across the province.

'IT'S BATTLEFIELD NURSING, BATTLEFIELD MEDICINE'

Dr. Leyla Asadi, an infectious disease physician in Edmonton, is one of 65 Alberta doctors who signed a letter sent to the premier, the minister of health and Alberta’s top doctor calling for stricter public health restrictions and the implementation of a certificate of immunity also known as a vaccine passport.

“We just don’t have enough healthcare workers to be taking care of all the people that might be coming into the hospital if we don’t take immediate action,” she told CTV News Edmonton.

“It’s battlefield nursing, battlefield medicine,” Heather Smith, president for the United Nurses of Alberta, explained. “I think many people are saying, ‘Was there a way we could have avoided this?’”

Asadi said the moment important surgeries start getting postponed and staff is redeployed “you know you’re in an unstable situation.”

“You can add beds but you don’t have the qualified personnel to be making sure that the person in that bed is getting the care they need.”

Smith added: “It’s like if you have a bedframe in your bedroom but you don’t have a mattress… How comfortable is that going to be? How functional is that going to be?”

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Dan Grummett