Spiraling problems in Alberta's healthcare system

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Spiral of Problems in Alberta’s Health System

The shortage of health personnel is at the heart of the problems of the system, according to several professionals.

A shortage of ambulances available, patients put in the corridors and the partial closures of emergency centers are just a few examples of the strain Alberta's healthcare system is under this summer.

Hospitals are having such difficulty keeping up with demand that a memo was sent Tuesday to all Edmonton-area hospitals requiring them to take on more patients than there are. available space. All units must have patients in the hallways.

According to Alberta Health Services (AHS) spokesperson James Wood, this measure is not the preferred method of care , but it is needed for the next 24-36 hours.

This helps ensure patient flow throughout the Edmonton area and keeps ambulances available in the community, he said in an email.

The overcrowding in the emergency department delays the moment when a patient passes from the responsibility of the paramedics to that of the hospital, which then immobilizes ambulances.

Alberta's capital and Calgary frequently find themselves without an ambulance available to respond to emergency calls, according to data released by the New Democratic Party (NDP) and obtained through an Access to Information request.

April 2022 was Calgary's worst month for Red Alerts, the term used to refer to a situation where all ambulances in the city are busy and unable to respond to a 911 call. That month, the southern metropolis of the province was left without an ambulance available 618 times, for a total of nearly 11 hours.

The situation is worse in Edmonton: Alberta's capital experienced 859 red alerts in May, nearly 25 hours without an ambulance available.

Data shows that in 2019, the number of he red alerts rarely reached 100 in the two big cities.

We see a lack of personnel at the level of paramedics or nurses in the emergency rooms. That's the big deal, says Dr. Eddy Lang, chief of emergency medicine for the Calgary Zone at AHS.

The exhaustion after two long years of the pandemic, the summer holidays and the still numerous cases of isolation of the staff create a shortage of medical professionals, according to Mr. Lang.

Doctor Eddy Lang is in charge of the emergency room in Calgary.

The number of 911 calls has also increased by 30% this year compared to 2018-2019, says AHS in an email response, which makes the situation worse.

To remedy this, AHS imposed partial closures of care centers. Nine new ambulances have also been deployed to Calgary and Edmonton and 10 more will be available in September.

Several health professionals are however alarmed by a possible worsening of the situation.< /p>

We are operating in disaster mode, said concerned emergency physician and chair of emergency medicine at the Alberta Medical Association, Paul Parks. However, summer is the least busy period in hospitals, which makes her fear the fall and the appearance of respiratory illnesses.

The provincial secretary of the union of nurses and United Nurses of Alberta, Karen Craik, also believes that the measures in place are creating a vicious circle. It's stressful, because you can't take care of patients the way you want to, she says.

Caring for patients in the hallway adds to the exhaustion of the personnel and encourages employees to leave in search of better working conditions, she adds.

The NDP is calling on the government to take action, in particular by offering full-time contracts paramedics and increasing the services available to addicts to stem the opioid crisis.

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