Calgary

Alberta's hospitals near 90% of surge capacity

Alberta's health-care system is buckling under an influx of sick COVID-19 patients as hospitals across the province are nearing the 90-per-cent threshold of their surge capacity.

Hospitals in central, northern parts of province hardest hit

Red Deer Regional Hospital has faced an influx of COVID-19 patients in recent weeks. (Red Deer Regional Health Foundation)

Alberta's health-care system is buckling under an influx of sick COVID-19 patients as hospitals are nearing the 90-per-cent threshold of their surge capacity.

The province has been adding hospital beds to cope with the soaring number of cases. Even so, intensive care capacity — including the additional surge beds — is currently at 87 per cent, Alberta Health Services (AHS) says.

Without the additional surge spaces, provincial ICU capacity would be at 174 per cent.

Hospitals in the central and northern parts of the province are particularly hard hit. Those zones are at or above 100 per cent capacity, even with surge capacity, AHS said in a written statement.

More than 50 people have been airlifted out of those regions to receive treatment in other areas of the province.

"A bed today is not the same thing as a bed pre-pandemic," said Dr. Mike Weldon, an emergency physician at Red Deer Regional Hospital.

'Take just one more'

Weldon said resources are being spread thinner.

"You're being constantly asked to take just one more, just one more," he said.

As of Wednesday, there were 1,040 patients in Alberta hospitals with COVID-19, the highest the province has seen.

The number of patients in ICU has increased by 13 per cent in the past seven days, according to AHS figures.

Staff members work at an ICU in an Alberta hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of Wednesday, there were 1,040 patients in Alberta hospitals with COVID-19, the highest the province has seen. (Submitted by AHS)

Weldon said intensive care beds have reached maximum capacity, even with the surge capacity. And staff are struggling to look after the volume of patients.

AHS has not enacted the critical-care triage protocols, in which critical care is reserved for patients with the greatest chance of survival, but Weldon worries that's coming soon. 

"My personal fears are high, higher than they've ever been that care will have to be denied," he said.

"In all honesty, we've never been as close as we are now, and difficult decisions are being made, despite the fact the triage protocol has not been enacted." 

AHS has opened 41 additional ICU surge spaces in the past seven days, and 13 since Tuesday afternoon. 

There are currently 302 patients in ICU, the vast majority of whom are COVID-19 positive. This is the highest number of ICU patients since the pandemic began, AHS said. 

"Emotions are high, I think the resolve is also high, fortunately," Weldon said.

Weldon said individuals should not avoid emergency care if they think they need it. 

"We are here to help you make the best and safest care decisions now, as always," he said.

A spokesperson from AHS said the organization is working to ensure it has enough ICU capacity to meet patient demand, including opening additional spaces and redeploying staff.

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