Alberta Health Services looking out of province for ICU beds, staff

The province is now looking outside of its borders for additional ICU beds and staff to help treat the surging number of COVID-19 cases in Alberta.

During a news conference Wednesday evening, Alberta Health Services CEO Verna Yiu said there were few options left on the table. 

“We are facing our greatest challenge as a provincial health-care organization at a time when most of us had hoped that this pandemic would be close to over,” Yiu said. 

Alberta Health Services CEO Verna Yiu addresses concerns and plans to mitigate the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Alberta hospitals. (Government of Alberta)

Around Alberta, on Tuesday there were 270 patients in intensive care — the highest number of ICU patients in the province ever, according to Yiu. She added that capacity was at 88 per cent full. 

“That is taking into account the additional 132 surge spaces that we have opened to meet demand. Without those spaces, we would be at 156 per cent of our normal capacity.

“There would not be enough ICU beds for those that need them,” Yiu said.

Yiu said AHS will reach out to see if other provinces may be able to take ICU patients who need care, or spare staff that can work in intensive care units. 

In an email statement to CBC News this afternoon, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health in Saskatchewan said “at this time, Saskatchewan does not have capacity to receive additional ICU patients from out-of-province.” 

A spokesperson for Manitoba’s health ministry told CBC News “questions relating to Alberta’s health-care system are best directed to Alberta Health Services.”

British Columbia and Ontario have not responded to CBC News’ request for comment.

‘Very, very concerning’

A provincial group of doctors who have banded together to provide updates on the surging numbers in Alberta also reacted to the news of additional restrictions and the fact that AHS is looking to other provinces for help. 

Dr. Neeja Bakshi during a Protect our Province update addressing the rise in COVID-19 cases in Alberta that are overwhelming ICUs around Alberta. (Protect our Province/Youtube)

“We are in positions that none of us have ever been in before,” said Dr. Neeja Bakshi with the Protect Our Province group. 

Bakshi called the new measures confusing and thinks that it is already too late.

“I fear that the next few weeks in Alberta are going to still be very, very concerning and we are going to see needless suffering and deaths due to the lack of action.”

According to AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson, ICU levels around the province vary. The North health zone is currently operating at 108 per cent capacity, while the South zone is at 100 per cent. Other zones are currently between 80 and 90 per cent full.

Triage protocols

Yiu confirmed that AHS is preparing to implement its triage protocols, though they are not yet being implemented and Yiu described it as a last resort.  

“We are doing this because the number of patients needing ICU care continues to rise rapidly … the number of COVID patients in ICU increased by 29 per cent in the past seven days alone,” she said. 

Yiu described it as a planned and predetermined province-wide approach to guide the response should demand for care surpass the amount of resources that are available, including beds and ventilators.

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