Calgary

Growth of Foothills hospital COVID outbreaks forces patients to be diverted

As COVID-19 outbreaks at the Foothills Medical Centre continue to grow, more medical procedures are being postponed, some patients are being diverted to other hospitals and a top infectious disease expert is sounding the alarm.

'I think it severely impacts the hospital's ability to provide care,' says infection prevention doctor

Outbreaks of COVID-19 at Foothills Medical Centre in northwest Calgary have claimed five patients' lives and forced 290 health-care workers to go into isolation. (CBC)

As COVID-19 outbreaks at the Foothills Medical Centre continue to grow, more medical procedures are being postponed, some patients are being diverted to other hospitals and a top infectious disease expert is sounding the alarm.

As of Wednesday, outbreaks at six units at Foothills have sent 290 staff into self-isolation, and have caused dozens of surgeries to be postponed.

Sixty-three positive cases have been identified in patients, staff and visitors at the city's northwest hospital, and four patients have died.

Numbers are 'somewhat horrifying,' doctor says

"It's somewhat horrifying, to be honest, to see those kinds of numbers," said Dr. Stephanie Smith, the director of infection prevention and control at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton.

"It severely impacts the hospital's ability to provide care, and certainly we're seeing that across the province in that there's services that are being diverted to other hospitals. So it's very concerning."

Smith says some cardiac catheterization patients who would normally be treated at the Foothills are being diverted to other centres, including the University of Alberta Hospital.

Foothills Medical Centre is the only hospital serving central and southern Alberta with cardiac catheterization labs (CCL), where doctors can diagnose heart problems and remove potentially deadly heart blockages. 

'Temporary service disruptions'

In a statement emailed to CBC News, an AHS spokesperson said the majority of procedures at the Foothills lab are moving ahead. However staffing shortages have led to some treatments being postponed.

"There are some temporary service disruptions due to staffing restraints from the COVID-19 outbreak. Patients who are affected are being contacted to have their treatment rescheduled," AHS said. 

AHS said Edmonton hospitals are providing support by taking new referrals but critical procedures continue to be performed at the Foothills cardiac catheterization lab.

AHS also said patients who have already been admitted have been transferred to other Calgary hospitals 

"In the current outbreak situation, patients have been transferred from various units at FMC to other acute care sites in Calgary. In-patient unit transfers have been made in an ongoing effort to ensure patient, healthcare worker and physician safety while we work to manage the outbreaks," the statement said.

There are outbreaks on six units at Foothills, including several cardiac wards. Two more units are on "outbreak watch."

It's somewhat horrifying, to be honest, to see those kinds of numbers.- Dr. Stephanie Smith, infection prevention director

On Monday and Tuesday, AHS postponed 48 surgeries due to staffing shortages.

Smith says the high number of patients, staff and visitors infected paints a troubling picture.

"For it to be so widespread, I think that one would have to assume that there were at least a couple of patients — I don't know how many — that would have been in the hospital for a period of time unisolated or unidentified," she said.

Enhanced visitor restrictions are in place across the hospital, limiting visitors to essential or end-of-life circumstances, and decisions on further surgery postponements will be made as needed going forward, AHS said. 

The latest update from the province reported 153 new cases of the illness, with 64 people being treated in hospital, including 13 in ICU beds.

With files from Jennifer Lee

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