A patient died this past weekend while waiting for care in an emergency room in Red Deer, Alberta Health Services said Tuesday.
AHS spokeswoman Kerry Williamson said the patient was tried at Red Deer Regional Hospital and reconsidered by emergency personnel, but died before receiving further care.
The emergency department was then fully staffed, AHS said.
Williamson did not provide further details on the nature of the illness or circumstances of the death, which occurred Sunday morning.
He said the medical examiner had been called in and a review was underway.
“We recognize that waiting times at (the hospital) at certain times over the weekend were long due to an increase in demand, and an increase in very sick patients,” Williamson said. “We do not know if this incident was the result of waiting times in the Red Deer emergency department.
“AHS is reviewing this incident, including the care provided to this patient and the circumstances of their death.”
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Health Minister Jason Copping could not provide further details on Tuesday but said he was taking the matter seriously.
“My heart goes out to the family and anyone who has died in our system. “I do not have all the details about this – I just heard about it – but I know AHS is investigating,” he said when asked about the death during the fortnightly Alberta Health update on COVID-19.
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Alberta has a record 377 people in hospital with COVID-19 and emergency rooms face long waiting times and multiple red warnings, meaning no ambulances are available at any given time.
Copping said there was a 30 percent increase in COVID-19 hospital cases within a week. The test positivity rate remains high at 43 percent.
Emergency physicians said patients are being treated in corridors.
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Copping said although the Omicron wave of the pandemic appears to be diminishing, hospitalizations are expected to continue to increase in the short term due to the time lag between infection and disease.
“Make no mistake, the coming weeks are going to be the hardest yet.”
The latest news comes a day after Copping announced measures to release ambulances and reduce long waiting times in hospital emergency rooms due to high COVID-19 case load and hospital staff illness.
The changes include the transfer of more non-emergency low-priority calls to other aid agencies and the transfer of non-emergency inter-facility patients in ways other than ambulances.
Copping announced the new measures while confirming reports that emergency services in Airdrie, near Calgary, became so tense last week that one medically fragile boy with a broken leg had to be taken to hospital with a fire truck because no ambulances were available .
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Opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd said Prime Minister Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government had failed to provide adequate precautions – such as proper masks and air filters – to prevent proliferation in the first place.
“There are more Albertans in the hospital with COVID-19 than ever before, and the UCP is refusing to take basic measures to slow distribution in schools, workplaces or post-secondary institutions,” Shepherd said.
“Frontline health care workers are badly burned out, exhausted and in short supply of staff as we make our way through this fifth wave of the pandemic.”
Copping also announced that the first installments of Paxlovid will be available to Albertans from Monday.
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Paxlovid is the first COVID-19 treatment approved by Health Canada that can be taken orally at home for people who have tested positive.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, said the initial group was limited. For the time being, it will be offered only to those who will benefit the most such as those with immunosuppressive conditions, including transplant recipients and cancer patients.
The medication will only be available on prescription as it can cause side effects.
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For years, the Red Deer Regional Hospital has been over capacity and various provincial governments have undertaken to make improvements.
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– With files by Karen Bartko, Global News
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