Edmonton doctors say they're ill-prepared for a coronavirus outbreak

The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association, which represents 1,600 doctors, says it has received little information and guidance from the province.

Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association says it hasn’t received adequate information from province

1,600 doctors in the Edmonton Zone say they're not provided with adequate instructions from the province to deal with COVID-19. (funnyangel/Shutterstock)

The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association (EZMSA), which represents 1,600 doctors, says family doctors are ill-prepared to deal with a coronavirus outbreak because the province isn't providing enough guidance and information. 

Alberta reported its first presumptive case of COVID-19 on Thursday. The patient is a woman in her 50s who lives in the Calgary health zone. She was on board the Grand Princess cruise ship before it was quarantined off the coast of California. 

According to Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, the woman is in isolation at home. 

On Thursday afternoon, EZMSA released an open letter to the provincial government asking for more information, resources and guidance to deal with coronavirus. The letter was from EZMSA president Dr. Ernst Schuster. 

Dr. Don Wilson, the EZMSA's community doctor president, said the province has not contacted family doctors with an adequate plan or information to prepare their clinics. 

"My concerns are even more poignant. What is the plan?" he said. "How are we going to protect physicians, health care staff and our own staff and officers from the risk of getting this particular problem?" 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, speaks at a news conference Thursday. Hinshaw says she was concerned when she saw EZMSA's letter. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Hinshaw says the province has been working with Alberta Health Services, the Alberta Medical Association, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta and primary health care networks to get information out. 

"Certainly we're taking that very seriously," she said. "I was concerned to see that message, but it is a great opportunity to work closely with that group and make sure that our messaging is getting out." 

'Not really sure what our role is'

Wilson said family physicians who work at local clinics are given little information to prepare for the virus. 

"When it comes to infectious diseases, community physicians are the frontline. We're the ones that see it and the problem with that is we really don't have a lot of information," he said. 

Wilson said he and his colleagues need information that's timely and they've been relying on the media for updates. 

"We're not really sure what our role is in the greater health system during these things," he said.

Wilson said medical staff also haven't received a proper list of personal protective equipment for staff, which increases their risk of getting COVID-19.

"The World Health Organization has also stated that frontline healthcare workers must receive this equipment," he said. 

"We're supposed to somehow keep our practices open and ... be paying for personal protective equipment, that is not only very expensive, but to be honest we're having difficulty getting a hold of." 

Wilson said he also wants to know how the province plans to provide equipment for staff. 

Letter contains demands

The open letter written by EZMSA has 14 demands. It requested the province to include community doctors in the outbreak planning process, as well as provide guidance to answer public questions. 

"They're not bringing community physicians to the table here so that we can sit down there and at least give our take on the situation," said Wilson.  

The letter also called for a plan to bring temporary doctors in for an additional workforce to meet demand. 

Hinshaw said the province posted a frequently asked questions document on the Alberta Health Services website that doctors can refer to. 

"We are using multiple means — faxes, emails, word of mouth, working with PCNs [primary care networks] and we have been for multiple weeks," Hinshaw said. 

"Clearly, we need to ramp up our efforts and we need to work closely with partners to get that message out."