Surgeries delayed, visitation limited, as Foothills hospital grapples with COVID-19 outbreaks

Alberta Health Services has postponed surgeries and is restricting visitors at the Foothills hospital as part of its response to ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at the Calgary medical complex.

Spread of COVID-19 in hospital has killed 4 patients and infected dozens

Visitor restrictions and delayed surgeries are the latest moves by AHS to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the Foothills hospital in northwest Calgary. (CBC)

Alberta Health Services has postponed surgeries and is restricting visitors at Calgary's Foothills hospital as part of its response to ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks.

The organization says 39 surgeries will be rescheduled due to staffing restrictions and the reduced number of available beds. 

A total of 53 people have now been infected as part of the outbreaks that started in two cardiac units and a general medicine unit at the Foothills Medical Centre. 

Four patients have died as a result of outbreaks at the hospital. There are now five units affected and three others on watch status.

Visitor restrictions

Dr. Peter Jamieson, the medical director at the hospital, told news media on Monday afternoon that it seems clear the outbreaks in the cardiac units are linked, but there is not yet any evidence the other outbreaks are related. 

There are now more stringent protocols at the hospital to limit the spread. 

"As of today, visitation at FMC will be temporarily restricted to end-of-life situations or pre-approved essential visitors only," AHS said in a news release. 

"We know this is difficult for everyone and we will do all we can to keep these additional restrictions in place for as short a time as possible."

The emergency department remains open and will continue to provide surgery. AHS says it is "working hard" to ensure the availability of specialized staff. 

"There are a total of 26 positive patient cases linked to the FMC outbreaks and 27 positive health-care workers," reads the release. 

AHS says the number of health-care workers who are in isolation will be updated twice weekly. The latest tally, issued Friday, was 136.

Staff infections impact available beds

Jamieson said they do not have a new figure on the number of infected health workers.

"That number will be higher, but we are encouraged by the results of our health-care worker testing over the last day or two," he said.

The impact of staffing is the reason for a shortage of beds, said Jamieson, and the number of available spaces is changing frequently. 

He said a large team is working to try to identify the source of the outbreaks. 

AHS says contact tracing continues along with enhanced screening, and infection prevention and control measures continue to be in place. 

A previous outbreak at the Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton led to the facility barring new admissions, but Jamieson said that's not an option at the sprawling Foothills facility, which serves as a centre for trauma and stroke treatments for southern Alberta. 

He said he hasn't seen any indication that people are avoiding the hospital and its emergency room. However, he said they've learned from the reaction to the first wave of COVID-19 that it is a possibility.