COVID-19 outbreaks at Alberta hospitals trigger staffing worries

The COVID-19 outbreaks at Foothills hospital in Calgary are raising concerns about how hospitals around the province will be able to cope as COVID-19 cases increase.

Dozens of health-care workers forced to self isolate

Health-care workers put on protective equipment at a COVID-19 testing facility in Alberta. An infectious disease physician says she's worried about staffing shortages as cases go up around the province. (Alberta Health Services)

The COVID-19 outbreaks at Foothills hospital in Calgary are raising concerns about how hospitals around the province will be able to cope as cases mount.

As of Thursday, 29 patients and staff had tested positive and three patients have died, while the number of health-care workers required to go into isolation has grown to 119.

"I think staffing is a real concern," said Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease physician and director of infection prevention and control at the University of Alberta Hospital.

Dr. John Conly, the head of infection prevention and control at Foothills Medical Centre, says it isn't the only hospital struggling to keep up as more and more healthcare workers are forced to quarantine.

"This is a challenge to all acute care institutions across the province and indeed across the country," he said.

An outbreak has also been declared in one unit at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton that involves three health-care workers. 

At University of Alberta Hospital, where Smith works, one unit with 18 beds is closed due to staffing issues, she noted.

"If we end up starting to get larger numbers needing hospitalization we won't have the health-care workers to take care of them," she said.

Alberta Health Services has said it is using overtime and reassignment of staff to cover shifts at Foothills.

Smith says only a small number of health-care workers told to isolate during outbreaks actually end up testing positive.

And she says Alberta may need to change the definition of what constitutes a COVID-19 exposure to keep more people working.

With files from Jennifer Lee


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