Calgary hospitals cancel surgeries for 2nd week as protesters outside defend right to be unvaccinated

All elective surgeries and most outpatient procedures in Calgary have been cancelled for the second week in a row as hospitals contend with surging COVID-19 cases and staff shortages. But outside of Foothills hospital, protesters were more concerned about vaccine mandates.

ICUs are at 148% of capacity but those outside Foothills hospital were more concerned about vaccine mandates

On the left, outside Foothills hospital in Calgary, a protester holds a sign comparing vaccine mandates with Nazi Germany. On the right, a health-care worker bows their head outside of the room where loved ones are saying goodbye to a patient dying of COVID-19 in a May 2021 file photo. (Axel Tardieu/Radio-Canada, Leah Hennel for AHS)

All elective surgeries in Calgary are cancelled for the second week in a row as hospitals contend with surging COVID-19 cases. But outside of Foothills hospital in the city's northwest, protesters were more concerned with their right to remain unvaccinated. 

Alberta Health Services said postponing surgeries and outpatient procedures was a difficult decision but one that will allow staff to be redeployed to intensive care and critical care beds.

Intensive care unit beds are at 148 per cent of capacity. There are 56 COVID patients in ICU beds in Calgary, and 232 COVID patients in total in city hospitals. 

Those elective surgeries being cancelled include cancer surgeries and operations to deal with issues like chronic pain. Surgeries were cancelled in Edmonton and other parts of the province as well. 

The province has invoked emergency work rules that allow it to force nurses to work mandatory overtime. It's exploring bringing in contractors from other provinces to increase staffing. 

However, the extra staff AHS brought in on Monday weren't exactly health-care workers — they were security.

Police direct an ambulance past a protest against public health measures such as COVID-19 vaccine mandates, outside of Foothills hospital in Calgary on Monday. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Protective services staff were in place at Foothills and other hospitals around the province to help patients enter and exit safely, and fences were installed to separate patients and staff from dozens of protesters decrying vaccine mandates outside.

Euan Thomson was outside with a group of volunteers, offering safe passage to escort health-care workers and patients through the crowd.

"We want to make sure those people can get through the hospital without that level of harassment," he said. "That's what we're here for … being there when they need it."

Medical groups, the premier and prime minister have condemned anti-vaccine protests outside of hospitals, out of concerns it will impact access to care and demoralize already exhausted health-care workers.

Sarah Hamilton, a protester outside of the hospital who said she works in long-term care, told CBC News she thinks Canada is no longer free when people have to "show passports to buy their groceries."

There is no province in Canada that requires people to show proof of vaccination to access essential services like groceries. 

The protest was purportedly held in support of front-line workers. 

Alberta Health Services and the City of Calgary are requiring employees to receive two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. They say those who can't be vaccinated for a medical reason or for other protected grounds under the province's human rights act will be accommodated. 

Protesters outside of Foothills hospital hold signs comparing vaccine passports and other health measures with genocide. (Axel Tardieu/Radio-Canada)

Police were on site monitoring the crowd and broke up a few altercations between those protesting vaccine mandates and counter-protesters, who were blasting music in an attempt to drown out anti-mask and anti-public health rhetoric.

The overwhelming majority of Albertans facing serious illness as a result of COVID are unvaccinated. The medical community's consensus is that vaccination is the strongest prevention for COVID-19. 

Alberta has the second lowest rate of vaccinations in the country, before Nunavut. Just 60.5 per cent of the total population, or 71.2 per cent of those eligible, are vaccinated. 

There are more than 18,000 active COVID-19 cases in the province.


Sarah Rieger

Former CBC digital reporter

Sarah Rieger worked with the digital team at CBC Calgary from 2017 to 2021. She previously worked at HuffPost Canada.

With files from Jennifer Lee, Colleen Underwood and The Canadian Press


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