March 3rd, 2024

Alberta Medical Association sounds alarm on hospital overcapacity


By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on December 13, 2023.

Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman The Alberta Medical Association.says that hospitals across the province are working at overcapacity due to a combination of factors.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

The Alberta Medical Association is sounding the alarm on hospital overcapacity across the province based on what they say is a result from a trifecta of factors.

AMA president Dr. Paul Parks told the Herald Monday that an increase in respiratory illnesses resulting in hospitalization is adding to an already over-capacity system.

“The biggest thing we are seeing right now is composed of three things: our work force is really depleted, our hospital capacity is really struggling across the province, we’ve been over capacity for a long time and now the volumes of sick patients with respiratory illness and specifically influenza is just really challenging our acute care system and our capacity and our ability to give safe and timely care,” said Parks.

He said in Lethbridge one of the biggest workforce challenges is around allied healthcare workers and nurses, as well as struggling with recruiting and retaining new emergency physicians.

“They’ve been down a large number for a while now, and they’ve been having a lot of trouble recruiting, so it’s kind of hitting in every aspect right now, all three of them, the workforce, the capacity and the sick volumes are basically all meeting at the same time in a perfect storm,” said Parks.

Parks believes one reason for the severe cases of influenza hospitals are seeing is due to a lack of exposure to severe influenza for a couple of years because of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions that were put into place.

“I think now that’s hitting us harder and more people are getting sick and having to be admitted with it, but there’s also just all the delayed care and sick people that have been building up the last couple years as well, so it’s not just our respiratory illnesses but they are really adding on top of it for sure,” said Parks.

He said the problems hospitals are dealing with now also include patients with advanced cancers, delayed surgeries and all other medical treatments that were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic which have to be addressed now.

“This has been building up for years, definitely within the last couple of years, but there’s no question that in the last two to three months it’s been getting slowly worse, and the last month with the increase in respiratory viruses it’s just really skyrocketed, and our admissions have just gone up through the board across the province,” said Parks.

He said this is starting to tax the provincial Intensive Care Unit capacity and a lot of hospitals functioning at overcapacity.

“If they were normally staffed for 100 per cent, they are now taking care of 120 or 130 per cent volume. That’s been building up over the last couple months and really critically bad over the last four weeks,” said Parks.

He said something that could help bring the capacity levels to a more manageable level is transparency about what is going on to be able to plan accordingly.

“With the transparency of what is going on we could look at what we can do to load level, for example if things are worse in the North Zone in Edmonton, maybe they could send some of their most stable patients down to the South Zone, and we can help out with their overcapacity levels and see how we could redistribute patients throughout the whole province,” said Parks.

He said a moving patients faster into continuing care in the South Zone to make more room in hospitals could also be helpful.

“There’s a bunch of different mitigation strategies that AHS is looking at that we just have to do in a more conservative fashion throughout the province, and that’s why it’s important that the minister, and the Premier and the healthcare leaders all know what we’re dealing with, what we’re struggling with,” said Parks.

He said he has been in communication with the Minister of Health and Alberta Health Services is also aware of the situation and they are trying to work rapidly to move things around, but Parks wants to make sure Albertans are aware of the situation.

“The whole system across the province is struggling, but just so people are aware that if you’re sick come in, we want to see you, we want to take care of you, but the waits may be a lot longer than you are expecting and you might get cared in hallways and non-traditional spaces. But just be aware of the challenges that were we’re dealing with and that we’re trying our best to just get some medium and long term solutions,” said Parks.

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