Urgent care centres in Alberta struggling to cope

A new Alberta Health Services report reveals that urgent care centres in the province are struggling to keep up with patient demand.

Patient safety at risk because staffing and resources are not at adequate levels, nurse union official says

Jacki Capper says staffing levels haven’t kept up with demand at urgent care centres in Alberta. 3:03

A new Alberta Health Services report reveals that urgent care centres in the province are struggling to keep up with patient demand.

Staff at those clinics cannot safely or effectively deal with the high numbers of very sick patients showing up, according to the document.

A new report from Alberta Health Services concludes that eliminating nurse practitioners from urgent care centres would not save the system money. It also highlighted some concerns in the urgent care system. (CBC)

Focus groups interviewed for the AHS report revealed concerns about sub-standard equipment — including patient rooms without adequate suction, a lack of isolation rooms and outdated X-ray equipment.

“Understaffing was a consistent message across all UCCs and participants expressed concern about the impact on patient safety, job satisfaction, staff turnover and poor work-life balance,” the report says.

Thirty nurses registered patient safety concerns with the union in one year alone, mostly regarding what they perceived to be inadequate staffing levels, said Jacki Capper, president of the United Nurses of Alberta Local 211 Calgary Community.

Airdrie urgent care centre to be reviewed

"We all worry about that as nurses,” said Capper.

6 centres reviewed

  • Airdrie Health Centre 
  • Cochrane Health Centre
  • Health First Strathcona
  • Okotoks Health and Wellness Centre
  • Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre
  • South Calgary Health Centre

*While the review compared Calgary Zone and Edmonton Zone urgent care centres, the recommendations pertain specifically to Calgary-area locations.

She says part of the problem is that urgent care centres are the victims of their own success, as the government consistently tells Albertans that they are a good alternative to over-crowded hospital emergency rooms.

“The staffing levels just haven’t kept up with demand,” she said. “I think it should be funded and staffed more like emergency if that’s truly what the government and Alberta Health Services wants.”

The AHS report makes several recommendations, including an immediate review of the urgent care centre in Airdrie. The centre only has nine treatment beds compared with 22 at the Cochrane centre or 32 at the Sheldon M. Chumir centre in Calgary.

“There’s a good need for urgent care, it’s been successful in taking some of the pressure off of emergency. And so with appropriate staffing and funding, I think it could be a really effective way of helping acute care,” she said.

Capper said it would help the situation if patients first called Health Link Alberta — the province’s 24/7 health advice line — to get guidance as to whether they should go to an emergency room, an urgent care centre or just make an appointment with their family physician.

View the report below. On mobile? Click here.