Military aid for Alberta to arrive Monday; doctors say provincial ‘fire break’ is more impactful step

Critical care nurses are set to arrive in Alberta on Monday — reinforcements sent by the Canadian military in an effort to help the province’s drowning medical system.

“The Canadian Armed Forces is preparing to provide up to eight critical care nurses to assist in intensive care units in hospitals in Alberta,” read a statement from Bill Blair, the minister of public safety and emergency preparedness.

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Just days after saying assistance offered to Alberta by the federal government and Newfoundland and Labrador was not immediately necessary, Premier Jason Kenney announced his province has now agreed to accept help as the health-care system is under “enormous pressure” because of the fourth wave of COVID-19.

Kenney said eight to 10 staff from the Canadian Armed Forces will be coming, likely to CFB Edmonton, along with up to 20 trained staff from the Canadian Red Cross, who will likely be deployed to the hard-hit Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

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He said his government is in the process of finalizing plans to bring in a medical team from Newfoundland, likely to be deployed to Fort McMurray’s hospital. Alberta Health Services confirmed to Global News the process will likely happen this week.

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“These contributions may help us to staff four or five additional ICU beds,” the premier said, noting that every little bit helps.

“Alberta Health Services is grateful for the assistance of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Canadian Red Cross in providing additional medical personnel to help alleviate the increased pressure on our health system as a result of COVID-19,” read a Sunday statement from AHS.

“Specific details of where these medical personnel will be deployed is still being finalized, but it is expected the Canadian Armed Forces will be stationed in Edmonton.”

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Blair’s statement said the initial team will be “in position” by Monday and will seek to confirm where and how the nursing officers will be integrated into the Alberta health-care system.

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The release said the Canadian Red Cross is planning to provide up to 20 medical professionals with “some intensive care unit experience” to augment or relieve existing staff working in Alberta hospitals.

Dr. Darren Markland, an intensive care physician, said this move does not address the problem of hospitals being overrun and surgeries being an “afterthought.”

“This is not a solution. It’s appreciated, but we really need to focus our political will on things that will make a difference,” he said.

Markland cited the need for a “fire break” — something major medical groups have been calling for at the provincial level for weeks.

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That measure would include the reintroduction of more sweeping restrictions for Albertans.

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“If we don’t do this soon… what is in my job description for next week is to be involved in looking at making choices for triage,” Markland said. “We aren’t there yet, but eventually, we are going to pay a price.”

‘It’s not enough’

Danielle Larivee with the United Nurses of Alberta said though she can’t give enough thanks to those coming to assist on the front lines, the reality is that there would need to be hundreds of nurses sent to the front lines to make a difference.

“It’s very welcome, but it’s not enough. We need to stop the flood of ill people into the hospitals,” Larivee said. “Our health-care system is actively collapsing.”

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A request for federal assistance is initiated when an emergency event overwhelms or threatens to overwhelm the resources of a province or territory and federal government help is needed to support the region.

“The Government Operations Centre is working closely with federal and provincial partners to co-ordinate the federal response to the situation in Alberta,” read a release from the federal government.

“Short term, this is appreciated. In the long term, we don’t see an end to this with the way it is now. We need to stop community spread,” Larivee said.

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– With files from Phil Heidenreich

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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