Alberta doctor under fire for spreading 'completely false' COVID-19 claims
Dr. Gary Davidson's opinions 'do not accurately reflect' pandemic, AHS says
Alberta Health Services says a Red Deer doctor's claims that the province waited for a drop in hospital admittance numbers to justify COVID-19 restrictions are "completely false."
A video widely circulated online this week shows Dr. Gary Davidson, an emergency medicine physician at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, speaking before a large crowd at a recent public forum. CBC News was unable to confirm the date or location of the event.
In the video, Davidson — a former chief of emergency medicine in Red Deer — accuses the government of manipulating the numbers surrounding the new restrictions.
But in a statement to CBC News, Alberta Health Services spokesperson Kerry Williamson said Davidson's claims are harmful and disappointing.
"This physician's opinions do not accurately reflect the COVID-19 pandemic, the AHS pandemic response, or the situation at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre," Williamson said.
CBC News asked Davidson to respond to the AHS statement but he declined.
Video posted online on Sunday
AHS and one of Davidson's colleagues confirm he is the man speaking in the video.
In the video, Davidson — who sought nomination as a United Conservative Party candidate in the riding of Red Deer South in 2019 — accuses the province of waiting for hospital admittance numbers to drop to bring in a "lockdown."
"In three days, [hospital admittance numbers] had been trending down and my last shift, I had zero patients for about three hours," Davidson says in the recording.
"The day before lockdown, I texted one of my political friends and I said, 'We must be heading into lockdown because the numbers are starting to droop.'"
WATCH | Red Deer doctor decries Alberta's pandemic response in open forum:
In the video, which was posted online on Sunday, Davidson says hospital admittance numbers were on a downward trend in the days leading up to Sept. 15, when Premier Jason Kenney announced sweeping new public health restrictions in a bid to clamp down on a devastating fourth wave.
At the time, hospitals were already reaching their breaking point. But Davidson suggests otherwise.
"As soon as the [admittance numbers] droop, we go into a lockdown so it looks like the lockdown fixed everything and they've done this every time," Davidson says in the recording.
"So you know that if you're into 1½ or two days of a droop, you're going to have a lockdown. Because if it gets better, they fixed it."
However, AHS data shows that between Sept. 9 and Sept. 16, provincial hospitalizations due to COVID-19 increased by 32 per cent, from 679 to 896 inpatients.
For the week before that, hospitalizations increased by 39 per cent across the province.
Doctor's claims 'disappointing,' AHS says
"The information provided in this video is completely false," Williamson, the AHS spokesperson, said in his statement.
"This physician's opinions do not accurately reflect the COVID-19 pandemic, the AHS pandemic response, or the situation at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre. In addition, they do a disservice to the incredible work our front-line teams do every day. It is disappointing that someone would spread misinformation about COVID-19 in this way."
Dr. Keith Wolstenholme, an orthopedic surgeon at the Red Deer hospital, said he was disappointed by Davidson's comments.
He said while the hospital has existing capacity issues, COVID-19 has left the facility "overtaken" with cases and only performing life-and-limb surgeries.
"I think this type of messaging causes potential harm to the public, and I don't think that it should be tolerated," Wolstenholme said.
In the video, Davidson says the health-care crisis was caused not by COVID-19 but by funding cuts implemented six years ago by the former NDP government.
He says the Red Deer hospital has been forced to redirect patients to other hospitals due to ongoing staffing and funding shortages in the ER, not because of an influx of COVID patients.
"It has nothing to do with COVID. It's been going on for six years and it was created."
Red Deer's hospital has been buckling under the pressure of COVID-19.
AHS confirmed Wednesday that ICUs in the central zone are operating at 100 per cent of capacity. Red Deer's hospital is the main facility in the zone, with 26 ICU beds, including 14 additional spaces.
Last week it was disclosed that some COVID-19 patients are being airlifted from Red Deer to other hospitals because of the strained capacity. Between Sept. 15 and 22 ,19 patients were transferred out of the central health zone.
Provincially, ICU capacity is at 87 per cent, including additional surge beds. Without the additional spaces, provincial ICU admissions would be at 174 per cent of capacity, AHS said.
CPSA cracking down on doctors spreading misinformation
In a statement to CBC News, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta said it is aware of the video and described it as "very concerning."
"As we know from daily provincial case counts, the COVID-19 situation is putting extreme pressure on our hospitals and ICU resources," the college said.
"Spreading misinformation does not align with a physician's professional responsibility to their patients. While we are unable to speak to individual cases, CPSA has a responsibility to Albertans to investigate regulated members who are sharing inaccurate and potentially harmful information."
The college, which regulates the practice of medicine in Alberta, has recently moved to crack down on doctors spreading misinformation.
At an emergency meeting Monday, members of the college council unanimously supported issuing a strongly worded warning letter to doctors who spread misinformation about COVID-19.
The college said it has told at least seven doctors who were spreading misinformation about COVID-19 that their behaviour was unprofessional.
Dr. Scott McLeod, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, says it has also spoken with doctors who gave in to pressure from patients wanting an exemption letter — not grounded in clinical evidence — to avoid having to wear masks or get vaccinations.
"It's incredibly disappointing to see your profession do things that are so harmful to others," McLeod said Tuesday.
With files from The Canadian Press