Fort McMurray hospital increases capacity for surge of COVID-19 intensive care patients

Fort McMurray’s hospital is adding three ICU beds, as the hospital has been at capacity for ICU beds for two weeks.

Hospital has brought on an extra doctor and nurses

A Calgary doctor prepares to intubate a COVID-19 patient in an intensive care unit. (Leah Hennel/Alberta Health Services)

Fort McMurray's hospital is adding ICU beds to increase its capacity as COVID-19 cases rise in the region and across Alberta. 

Murray Crawford, senior operating officer for Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, said the intensive care unit at the Fort McMurray hospital has been at capacity for two weeks.

The hospital added three beds by Saturday morning, bringing the ICU bed count from six to nine. 

Crawford said this is by no means the most ICU beds the hospital has had. During the third wave of the pandemic, there were 13 people in the ICU. 

"We don't ever want to get to that point again," said Crawford.

One way the hospital has expanded its ICU capacity is by limiting elective surgeries, he said.

The Northern Lights Regional Health Centre also brought in an extra doctor to help with the COVID-19 unit, and two locum nurses to help out in the operating room. 

As of Friday, there were 16 active COVID-19 cases in rural Wood Buffalo and 203 in Fort McMurray. 

Crawford noted that the number of COVID-19 cases in Fort McMurray and the surrounding region is lower than in other areas of Alberta. 

"Because we have capacity … we've actually been taking people from outside of our normal region, but within the north zone, to help out the other communities," said Crawford. 

The COVID-19 unit in the Fort McMurray hospital has 15 beds, said Crawford. 

About half of the current COVID-19 patients, including those in the unit as well as in intensive care, are from out of town, he said.

Between 80 and 90 per cent of the hospital's COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, he said.

"I think people should be concerned and I think that people should get out and get vaccinated and follow the public health orders. And I think we'll get through it," said Crawford.

"It's a challenge to make sure everyone's taken care of." 

On Thursday, Alberta Health Services president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu said Alberta had 222 patients in ICU and noted that, in a last resort, some patients may need to be transferred to Ontario if Alberta hospitals run out of capacity.

Crawford said he doesn't expect that will happen in Fort McMurray. 

"We do have capacity in the facility," said Crawford. "There's no intention to move anyone out of province." 


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