Calgary

Calgary's Foothills ER quiet as people avoid site of COVID-19 outbreak

Dr. Eddy Lang says there has been a 20 per cent drop in ER patients, and he wants to avoid a situation where patients hold off presenting for care.

Foothills reports 20% reduction in visits as word spreads of 11 deaths, 86 COVID-19 illnesses

Dr. Eddy Lang says the staff at Foothills are donning full PPE to deal with incoming patients, especially if there are any signs of COVID-19. (Eddy Lang)

The Foothills emergency room is unusually quiet these days.

The head of that department says people are afraid of the outbreak at the hospital that has claimed the lives of 11 people.

"What we're seeing is a similar phenomenon to what occurred early in the lockdown, probably because people are afraid of going to the Foothills, they're worried about the outbreak, they're avoiding it," Dr. Eddy Lang told The Homestretch.

"So as a result, it's been quieter at the Foothills, but busier at our other emergency departments."

Lang says there has been a 20 per cent drop in ER patients at Foothills.

He wants people to know there's little risk of catching the virus there.

"If you are coming in to the emergency department with possibility of anything that could be COVID symptoms then you are only going to be treated by healthcare providers who are donning full PPE equipment," he said. "So the risk of transmission is actually quite low."

More than 300 health care workers have had to isolate at some point during the outbreaks that began three weeks ago. 

Lang says the situation is putting strain on other hospitals in Calgary, as patients choose to bypass Foothills Medical Centre and drive to other ER locations.

"It's challenging because with all of those beds closed at the Foothills, the admissions and the patients who require inpatient beds are now being decanted to the other sites," he said.

"Already, we work at very top capacity. And to go beyond that is very challenging. So the in-patient units are pretty strained at the other two hospitals in Calgary because we've lost so many beds at the Foothills."

Lang said the Foothills hospital has adjusted by sending more physicians to other hospitals.

"Fortunately, we work on a zonal model for physician staffing, so we've just sent our physicians over to those sites and to respond to those busy situations, and we've been able to expand all services," he said.

Lang said there have been some adjustments to how cardiac patients are handled when they come to Foothills, as a result of the outbreak — which heavily affected cardiac units.

"Because the cardiac units are affected and the cardiologists aren't allowed to come down or leave that unit, we've had to be creative and innovative in how we handle patients," Lang said.

"Normally, we ask them to consult and come see patients before they're admitted. Now, we're trying to do a lot of that work over the phone. And for those patients who require admission, they just go straight upstairs. They don't need to be seen by cardiology in the emergency department."

Lang said there are more lessons to be learned from the cardiac unit outbreaks, and adjustments will be made.

"I have no doubt that as the investigation is active, we'll have a better understanding of what occurred and how to prevent it in the future," he said. 

Lang said he wants to remind people that it's better to go to the hospital if you need medical help, than not to seek care.

"We certainly met patients earlier on in the pandemic who had delayed their presentation and stayed home because of fear of contracting COVID, and as a result suffered health consequences from not getting timely treatment. That's why it's so important to get the message out that our hospitals are safe, 911 and EMS are perfectly operational, and the ambulance will take you to the most appropriate location," he said.

"If you don't require a service that's absolutely required at the Foothills, you'll be receiving perfectly good care at the Rockyview or the Peter Lougheed or the South Health Campus."

Lang said if possible, people should go to the ER in the early morning hours.

With files from the Jennifer Lee and The Homestretch

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