Alberta Health Services postponing non-urgent surgeries as COVID-19 cases surge

Alberta Health Services is postponing scheduled surgeries throughout the province in order to create capacity in intensive care units, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge.

Alberta's intensive care units are at 95 per cent capacity, said AHS CEO Dr. Verna Yiu

The decision to postpone scheduled surgeries throughout the province was not made lightly, said Dr. Verna Yiu, CEO of Alberta Health Services. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

Alberta Health Services is postponing scheduled surgeries throughout the province to create capacity in intensive care units as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge.

"When I spoke with the media earlier this week, I stated that the pressure on our health-care system was building," Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO, said Friday during a high-profile joint news conference with Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health. 

"Today we are taking additional steps to relieve some of that pressure."

Up to 60 per cent of surgeries are estimated to be postponed in the North zone next week, while as much as 50 per cent of surgeries or procedures may be delayed in the Edmonton zone, stated an AHS news release.

Central, Calgary and South zones will see about 30 per cent of its surgeries, procedures or outpatient visits affected. As well, planned endoscopy procedures in those three zones will be postponed by 30 to 40 per cent.

All patients whose operation is postponed will be contacted directly by AHS. Urgent and emergent procedures, as well as prioritized cancer surgeries, will still go ahead.

Tell us what you think!

Help shape the future of CBC article pages by taking a quick survey.

"We do not make these decisions lightly, and we acknowledge that postponing surgeries and procedures has a very deep impact on those impacted patients, families and their loved ones," Yiu said.

"But it is imperative that we maintain capacity in our hospitals, not just for patients with COVID 19, but for any Albertan who needs care and critical care."

The postponements aim to create space in hospitals for patients who need a higher level of care, and allow resources to be dispatched to areas that need them most, the release says.

As of Thursday, there are 487 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including 114 patients in ICU.

Alberta's ICUs are at 95 per cent capacity, Yiu said.

AHS is asking all part-time and casual staff to take extra shifts if they are available, as staffing has become "the critical issue" in the fourth wave of the pandemic, the news release adds.

During Friday's news conference, Kenney blamed the postponements on eligible Albertans who are not getting vaccinated for COVID-19, and the severe outcomes people who have not received two doses of vaccine are suffering from after contracting the delta variant.

"Your personal choice has very real-world social consequences," Kenney said.

Earlier this week, AHS announced that it would require its employees and contracted health-care workers to be fully vaccinated by the end of October.