Healthcare workers on the front lines in Alberta say help dealing with the immense pressures on hospitals amid the fourth wave of COVID-19 cannot come quickly enough.
“We are sailing as furiously as we can with this great tsunami that is trying to drown us,” said Dr. Paul Parks, president of emergency medicine for the Alberta Medical Association and an emergency room physician in Medicine Hat, Alta.
“I really don’t think we need fans or we need space or rooms or beds or materials. We need human beings safely, safely. And that has become clear to us over the last month or more, as the numbers are increasing. “
More than 1,500 new cases of COVID-19 were identified in Alberta on Tuesday, along with an additional 29 deaths from the disease. There were 996 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Tuesday, the highest number of hospitalizations the province has seen since the pandemic began in March 2020.
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Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver wrote a letter Tuesday to the federal government requesting help with air travel if needed to move patients to care facilities outside of Alberta, and more intensive care nurses and respiratory therapists.
Federal Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair responded on social media saying that “Federal officials have been reaching out to their counterparts in Alberta for the past week to offer help.
“I made it clear that when an application is received, it will be approved. We will work together to help the people of Alberta. ”
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As of Wednesday morning, Alberta Health Services said there were 348 ICU beds open in Alberta and an additional 41 spaces were opened for emergencies in the past seven days. ICU capacity is 87%, including additional beds. Without the additional augmentation slots, AHS said the provincial ICU’s capacity would be 174 percent.
There were 302 total patients in the ICU in Alberta on Wednesday, the vast majority of whom are COVID-19 positive, AHS said in a statement. This is the highest number of people who have been in the ICU since the pandemic began, AHS said.
According to Alberta Health data released Tuesday afternoon, 222 people were being treated for COVID-19 in intensive care.
“It’s disheartening that we’ve gotten to this point,” Parks said Wednesday morning, adding that the request for help is “better late than never.”
“It’s very clear on the front lines and in the ICU, basically throughout the hospital, that we definitely need help. Our numbers continue to rise and we are going to have to do something more drastic in order to save lives and overcome this wave. “
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Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses, had a similar reaction to the request for help.
“Finally,” he said in an interview with New Brunswick’s Global News on Wednesday morning.
“Every day we listen to the nurses and their colleagues, the doctors, they are at the end. They don’t know how they are going to handle their next shift, it doesn’t matter the next day.
“Help from the federal government is needed immediately.”
When Prime Minister Jason Kenney announced additional public health restrictions Wednesday night, he said the province could run out of staffed intensive care beds within the next 10 days, which would be this Saturday.
AHS has a intensive care triage protocol to guide the province’s response in the event that the demand for life-sustaining intensive care exceeds available resources. Basically, it guides healthcare workers in making tough decisions about who gets care and who doesn’t, should it come to that.
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On Tuesday, AHS said it has not yet had to implement the protocol, but continues to educate doctors and staff on the document.
“Those who work on that crisis, I hold onto my breath,” Silas said. “I just hope they don’t have to use those protocols. It’s awful.
“We need to do everything we can as a country to make sure that a doctor does not have to choose who will receive care and who will not.”
Dr. Brian Buchanan, an intensive care intensivist at the University of Alberta Hospital, said the current situation is “defeating.”
He said hospitals are seeing a lot of people who are not vaccinated or partially vaccinated and who are getting very, very sick.
“We have nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, and social workers who are trying to care for a large volume of critically ill patients,” Buchanan said.
Doing that alone is a “Herculean task,” he said, regardless of the trickle-down effect it has on the healthcare system.
“This always comes at a cost. And it has the cost of showing other types of care, it is the cost of the demoralization of health workers, ”he said.
“I don’t think this current rate is sustainable.”
Parks does not believe that Alberta has yet reached the peak of the fourth wave of COVID-19, driven in large part by the Delta variant. He said that healthcare workers can only do so much.
“People are showing every day that they go further. They are doing 15-hour shifts, coming in twice as long for the next day when it was their day off to help out.
“Fatigue, after doing this, hitting the fourth wave, it becomes increasingly difficult to do.”
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Parks is pleading with the public to do their part.
“We need people to avoid the big crowds, (wear) masks, get vaccinated… It sounds like a broken record, maybe people will roll their eyes, we’ve heard it. But I can’t emphasize enough: we have to stop the number of cases … because we have not yet reached our peak in Alberta. “
Silas would also like to see more people roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated, and a little more compassion for those who work in hospitals.
“Remember at the beginning of the pandemic when everyone said, ‘We’re all in this together?’ We are going to put the pots and pans at 7pm, cheer on our health workers, we are drawing rainbows everywhere.
“We need to bring that feeling back. We cannot have angry people’s demonstrations in the streets.
“We have to regain that hope and inspire the health workers who are trying to save lives in those buildings.”
With files from Aaron D’Andrea and Heather Yourex-West, Global News.
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