‘It’s unacceptable’: Edmonton ER doctors say health system in crisis and about to get worse

Alberta’s healthcare system is in serious danger and it’s about to get worse; that’s according to doctors on the frontlines of the province’s fifth COVID-19 wave, and Alberta Health Services officials do not disagree.

“It will certainly collapse our health care system if it continues to spread the way it is,” said Dr. Shazma Mithani.

The cracks are already forming. An ER doctor working an overnight shift shared photos of ER wait times as long as eight hours on Wednesday morning.

“We are not meeting the time standards for care for Albertans showing up with chest pain, abdominal pain, confusion, overdoses, waiting hours in our department. It’s unacceptable,” Dr. Raj Sherman explained in an interview with CTV News Edmonton.

The former Progressive Conservative and Liberal MLA said some people are walking out without being treated because they don’t want to wait any longer.

There’s just not enough staff to treat everyone in a timely manner, Sherman said, and the workers that are there are running on fumes.

“Staff are exhausted, they’re burnt out and many are on sick leave. And staff are morally distressed watching your fellow Albertans suffer metres from care, helpless not being able to provide that care.”ER’s are a safety Valve.

‘WAIT TIMES ARE GROWING’

Officials at AHS agreed with Sherman that the situation is dire.

COVID-19 hospitalizations were not as high on Wednesday as they were in September, but the number of patients with the virus appeared to be spiking towards an all-time high.

“We are extremely concerned about this rapid increase in hospitalizations, and acknowledge that emergency department wait-times are growing in tandem with pressure on the healthcare system,” said Kerry Williamson with AHS.

Staff are being shifted to high-priority areas and a “reduction in services and surgeries” will be considered, Williamson said.

He asked Albertans not to go to ERs if it’s possible to be treated elsewhere.

“If people need emergency care, we strongly urge them to call 911 or visit an emergency department. They will get the care that they need.”

Sherman said AHS needs to call back all health care staff and implement overcapacity protocols.

Some Alberta union leaders called for “circuit breaker” restrictions Tuesday, claiming a healthcare collapse has already started.

NO HOSPITAL PREDICTIONS, EXPERTS ON ‘MILD’ COVID

Alberta is not releasing any hospital modelling data, and that is a mistake, some experts believe.

A leaked projection showed Alberta’s hospitalization numbers rising from roughly 750 patients to as many as 1,541 in two weeks.

A government spokesperson disputed those numbers by saying that “no one” can predict how many hospital admissions are coming.

Mithani said she understands pandemic fatigue, but again pleaded with Albertans to stay vigilant.

“Whether you are coming in with COVID or appendicitis, if the system is stressed and strained, everyone who needs health care in Alberta is affected by that,” Mithani said.

She wants hospital modelling projections released as increased transparency, and so Albertans can see how much trouble the system is in.

Earlier this week, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health acknowledged that early messaging on Omicron being “mild” may have caused Albertans to underestimate the impact on hospitals.

“That individual mildness that we were seeing as a trend, I think it did have an impact on people’s willingness to respond,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Monday.

Regardless of whether a case turns out to be “mild” or not, a local developmental biologist said you still don’t want to get Omicron.

“Getting infected might not impact me the first time, but the second time I could develop long-COVID. And by the third or fourth time I get infected, maybe I die. It’s like rolling the dice every time,” Dr. Gosia Gasperowicz explained to CTV News Edmonton.

Alberta’s latest pandemic restrictions came into effect on Dec. 24, and last week Premier Jason Kenney said further measures would be a “last and limited resort.”

AHS again pleaded with Albertans to follow those rules that are in place.

“Stay home when sick, wear a mask, and most importantly, get immunized (including a booster),” Williamson said.

Alberta’s COVID-19 statistics were available online.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Chelan Skulski and Nahreman Issa

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