Growth of Foothills hospital COVID outbreaks forces patients to be diverted

An Alberta infectious disease expert says some patients from the Foothills Medical Centre are being transferred to other hospitals because of the COVID-19 outbreaks at the Calgary facility, a situation she says is very concerning.

The outbreaks at five units at Foothills have sent 290 staff into self-isolation, and have caused dozens of surgeries to be postponed.

Sixty positive cases have been identified in patients, staff and visitors at the city’s northwest hospital, and four patients have died.

“It’s somewhat horrifying, to be honest, to see those kinds of numbers,” said Dr. Stephanie Smith, the director of infection prevention and control at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton.

“It severely impacts the hospital’s ability to provide care, and certainly we’re seeing that across the province in that there’s services that are being diverted to other hospitals. So it’s very concerning.”

Smith says some cardiac catheterization patients who would normally be treated at the Foothills are being diverted to other centres, including the University of Alberta Hospital.

There are outbreaks on five units at Foothills, including several cardiac wards. Three more units are on “outbreak watch.”

It’s somewhat horrifying, to be honest, to see those kinds of numbers.– Dr. Stephanie Smith, infection prevention director

On Monday and Tuesday, AHS postponed 48 surgeries due to staffing shortages.

Smith says the high number of patients, staff and visitors infected paints a troubling picture.

“For it to be so widespread, I think that one would have to assume that there were at least a couple of patients — I don’t know how many — that would have been in the hospital for a period of time unisolated or unidentified,” she said.

Enhanced visitor restrictions are in place across the hospital, limiting visitors to essential or end-of-life circumstances, and decisions on further surgery postponements will be made as needed going forward, AHS said. 

As of Tuesday, there were 1,571 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta, with 63 patients in hospital, 13 of them in intensive care.

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