Doctors say Red Deer Regional Hospital short more than 100 beds and 3 operating rooms

The Red Deer Regional Hospital is short more than 100 beds and in desperate need of expansion, a group of doctors warned as they took the unusual step of holding a rare public meeting that attracted as many as 800 people Tuesday.

Some patients in beds placed in hallways with a curtain around them

Red Deer Regional Hospital desperately needs more beds, more operating rooms and a cardiac catheterization lab, says Dr. Keith Wolstenholme. (Andrew Brown/CBC)

The Red Deer Regional Hospital is short more than 100 beds and in desperate need of expansion, a group of doctors warned as they took the unusual step of holding a rare public meeting that attracted as many as 800 people Tuesday.

​"More than 75 per cent of our patients on the 'wait list' for elective surgery fall out of window — which means they wait too long for life-changing and life-saving surgery because we don't have enough ORs," said Dr. Keith Wolstenholme, chief of orthopedic surgery at the hospital.

Although it is the fourth busiest medical facility in the province, the hospital is in dire need of 96 more admitting beds, 18 more emergency room beds, three more operating rooms and funding for several other services, says Wolstenholme.

"I don't think central Alberta and the Red Deer Regional Hospital is appreciated for what it is," said Dr. Kym Jim, a long-time kidney specialist at the hospital. 

Crowd packs into overflow rooms

The meeting was attended by hundreds of members of the public. The room was so packed that many attendees crammed into two other rooms to watch on a livestream, said Jim. The doctors even held a second session for another 150 people.

"We think we probably had over 800 people attend," Jim said.

Too crowded to always do proper exams, neurologist warns

Dr. Jennifer Bestard, the head of neurology for the Central Zone, says some patients admitted to hospital are placed on beds in the emergency room, which means she can't always perform proper examinations.

"Many of my admitted patients have to wait several hours, at least 24 [hours] many times, to even get up to an appropriate bed where they can be monitored," she said.

"And at times, those overcapacity beds are in places like the hallway, with a curtain that surrounds the patient."

Dr. Jennifer Bestard says her patients sometimes have to wait up to 24 hours in the emergency department before an appropriate bed becomes available. (Andrew Brown/CBC)

Some of those beds left in the hallway are next to the television lounge, meaning patients are disturbed by announcements over the PA system throughout the night, says Bestard.

"They don't get the same kind of care," she said. "The patients are still cared for by nursing staff, but they have no privacy."

Doctors weren't the only ones speaking out at Tuesday's rally.

Complain to your MLAs, patient urges

A diabetes patient, Christianne Plourde, pleaded with the crowd to lobby provincial politicians to do more.

"Send that email. Make your MLAs know that this is an important issue," she said.

Jim is Plourde's kidney specialist and says Red Deer doesn't get the same funding for health infrastructure as the rest of the province.

"As people can see by the turnout here today, I don't think the citizens of central Alberta will take no for an answer here," he said.

Dr. Keith Wolstenholme says Red Deer Regional Hospital is in dire need of more than 100 beds and three operating rooms. (Andrew Brown/CBC)

Jim and other doctors want a meeting with the health minister.

Central Alberta heart attack patients up to 70% more likely to die, doctors warned

Last year doctors at the hospital sounded the alarm over AHS statistics suggesting heart attack patients in central Alberta had a 47 per cent higher mortality rate than people in Calgary in 2014-15.

Most heart attack patients in central Alberta are offered clot-busting IV drugs before being transferred out by ground ambulance or STARS air ambulance to Calgary or Edmonton.

By contrast, in major centres, virtually all patients are immediately treated with cardiac catheterization, a procedure in which doctors insert a long tube into an artery and can use a tiny balloon to eliminate blockages.

The group of doctors say they're organizing another public rally on the issue in early June.

With files from Andrew Brown