Alberta Health Link overwhelmed with flu calls

Assessment clinics were to open Friday to aid the province's overwhelmed health system deal with swine flu.

Calls to Health Link, a 24-hour medical help line in Alberta, have tripled and visits to emergency rooms have almost doubled with H1N1-related cases.

In Edmonton, Health Link is receiving about 10,000 calls a day, while the city's emergency rooms are seeing about 1,500 patients a day, a 40 per cent increase.

The high volumes have meant long lineups and many frustrated, sick people. On Friday, assessment clinics opened in Edmonton and Calgary.

Maggie Marks, who has swine flu, told CBC News she waited for more than six hours in an emergency room earlier this week.

"I wasn't prepared to sit there for another six hours," Marks said. "I mean I understand that everyone's busy... but nobody really listened ... as soon as they see it's the flu, they kind of just lump you [with] everyone else."

As an alternative to waiting in long lines, people are calling 911 for a quicker response, something Marks said crossed her mind.

"The thinking was if it gets so bad, just call an ambulance."

Justin Mazzolini, a paramedic, said calls to 911 have increased.

"It tends to be a fail safe when people don't know what to do," Mazzolini said. "It may not be the most appropriate but they do know someone will arrive to help them shortly by answering a 911 call."

Dr. Gerald Predy, Alberta's chief medical health officer, said while calls have increased extra staff have been made available to help.

Officials hope the assessment clinics will free up the phone lines and reduce pressure on the city's emergency rooms.

In Edmonton, the assessment clinic will be held at the Duggan Public Health Centre, which is located on the city's southside at 5035 108 A Street. It will be open from 8 a.m. until midnight. The other clinic, located in Calgary, will be held at the Richmond Road Diagnostic and Treatment Centre.