More surgeries postponed in Alberta because of jump in COVID-19

Alberta Health Services (AHS) is taking further steps to ease the burden on the province's health care system, now that COVID-19 cases are spiking once more.

Starting Friday morning, the agency says it will be postponing scheduled non-urgent surgeries and procedures across all five of Alberta's health zones.

The move comes approximately a week after AHS said it would be delaying 30 per cent of non-urgent surgeries in the Edmonton and North zones.

"The number of Albertans needing ICU care has increased rapidly in the past week," said AHS CEO Dr. Verna Yiu Friday. "While our front line teams are doing an incredible job in caring for Albertans, we need your help."

AHS released the following details on the scheduled postponements:

  • Up to 60 per cent of surgeries in the North zone;
  • Up to 40 per cent of endoscopy procedures and up to 30 per cent of schedule surgeries in the Central Zone and;
  • Up to 30 per cent of scheduled surgeries, endoscopy and outpatient visits in the Calgary and South zones.

The Edmonton zone will also see delayed procedures and surgeries increase to about 50 per cent, 20 per cent more than what was previously announced.

All urgent and emergent procedures will still occur, as will priority cancer surgeries.

"The specific number of postponements will be determined by the zone. All patients affected will be contacted directly by Alberta Health Services," Yiu said.

PATIENTS CONTINUE LONG WAIT FOR PROCEDURES

Gail Langley has been waiting for a hip replacement surgery for more than 18 months and is taking desperate measures to improve her quality of life.

“I’ve sold my house hoping for a big profit so I could access private surgery, moved into a condo, and downsized due to a decline in my mobility,” she said.

“As a senior on a fixed retirement budget even with the sale of my small home I cannot afford the $35,000-$45,000 fee for what has now become an issue with my knee and both hips.”

Langley says her doctors are continuing to encourage her to contact her local MLA or explore private care at her own expense.

“I’ve explored going to Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and even rural hospitals, but I’m just told I’m on a list and would not be put on more than one list in Alberta.”

ALBERTA'S ICU CAPACITY AT 95%

While Yiu pressed the importance of Albertans getting vaccinated and the changes to surgical times, she also revealed that the province's intensive care units are close to capacity.

"It was 95 per cent provincially. I think one of the benefits of an integrated provincialized system is that we are actually able to work provincially to make sure we are able to spread the resources across the province.

"While Edmonton may be very tight, we know that we potentially have more spaces in Calgary and in South zone. So understanding that we are able to shift the resources to make sure we've got adequate resources across the province."

Changes are also being made to add care beds in Calgary and Edmonton to improve access for patients.

They include five beds in the Pandemic Response Unit (PRU) at Calgary's South Health Campus for day medicine patients. Edmonton's PRU at the Kaye Edmonton Clinic is also being looked at as a way to free up more beds in the next few weeks.

AHS is also asking staff members, both part-time and casual, to consider taking extra shifts, as it says hospitals and care centres are still facing a staffing crunch.

"We do not make these decisions lightly and we acknowledge that postponing procedures and surgeries has a very deep impact on impacted patients, their families and loved ones," Yiu said. "But it is imperative that we maintain capacity in our hospitals, not just for patients with COVID-19, but for any Alberta who needs care."

'WE’VE BEEN ASKING GOVERNMENT TO STEP UP': UNITED NURSES OF ALBERTA

The United Nurses of Alberta are expressing concern and disappointment with provincial health leadership in the province as a result of the decision to postpone non-urgent surgeries.

Local 115 President, Kevin Champagne says the government should have anticipated this and been proactive in taking measures beforehand.

“Because this decision was made within the last 48 hours to reassign nurses, there isn’t a time to provide orientation or buddy shifts for nurses so that means you have to utilize the human resources that had previous training in those areas and those nurses need a break,” he said.

“It’s just unfair to continue to put unfair pressure on us, we have nurses more than ever going  to physicians at this point in time because their mental health has been impacted and they’re burning out.”

Champagne adds that vacations are also being cancelled for nurses to ensure proper staffing for ICU beds.

“If it's okay for our premier to take vacation for his burnout. You would think it reasonable for nurses to take a vacation.”