Canada Alberta asks provinces for health resources as ICU capacity nears breaking point
Alberta mum on further plans to curb COVID-19 spread
Alberta's provincial COVID-19 cases are soaring in the fourth wave, reaching the highest daily case count since May, and the government is staying mum on what future measures they may be considering to curb the spread. On Thursday afternoon Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and Dr. Verna Yiu president and CEO of Alberta Health Services announced that, in the wake of rising COVID-19 cases, the province would be providing more funding to increase health-care capacity.
Provinces across Canada are examining whether they will provide health resources to Alberta as its ICUs buckle under the stress of the COVID-19 fourth wave.
Alberta Health Services president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu announced Wednesday the health authority was taking the extraordinary measure of requesting ICU space and skilled labour from other jurisdictions. That revelation came asand introduced as COVID-19 spread threatens to overwhelm the capacity of the province’s critical-care spaces.
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Manitoba’s premier said Thursday his province will work to offer support if asked, providing it continues to have capacity. Yiu also said AHS is discussing potential patient transfers to Ontario, which has offered ICU capacity help.
Quebec officials told Postmedia on Thursday afternoon that they had not received any requests for health assistance from other provinces.
Meanwhile, both of Alberta’s neighbours say they won’t be able to help the province during the ICU crunch, with Saskatchewan and British Columbia officials saying current demands on their own health-care systems prevent them from providing resources to Alberta.
“However, we have told Alberta that if there are things we can do to support them, we will. And if we can take patients on in the future, we will,” B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a statement.
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Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey also offered aid in a statement on Twitter.
“The provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador and Alberta have long had close ties, with so many travelling back and forth for work or visits with family,” Furey said.
“I spoke with Premier (Jason) Kenney today to offer any support we can provide in their battle against COVID-19. We are all united.”
Alberta’s bid to bolster its health-system capacity comes as the province faces the highest ICU admission rates in Canada. There are now 222 Albertans in ICU with COVID-19; Ontario, which has three times Alberta’s population, has 191 COVID-19 ICU admissions. Alberta has a total of 896 hospitalizations from the virus.
Yiu said Thursday afternoon Alberta had reached out to B.C., Ontario and Manitoba. The province also planned to contact Quebec “and potentially another province” to request aid.
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“We have reached out to other provinces to see if they have any available space where Albertans could get the care that they need, and we’re asking them if they have skilled front-line staff who may be willing to come to Alberta to assist us,” Yiu said.
“We remain hopeful that it will not come to those terms, as our teams continue to add critical-care capacity in Alberta.
“I cannot stress enough how serious the situation is in our hospitals. I promise you we will continue to do all that we can to provide care to Albertans.”
AHS said Thursday afternoon there are currently 268 total patients in Alberta ICUs, with 83 per cent of them receiving treatment for COVID-19. The province has added 137 additional ICU beds to deal with the demand, giving it 86 per cent capacity. But without those additional surge spaces, provincial ICU capacity would sit at 155 per cent.
There has been a 16 per cent increase in ICU admissions in Alberta over the past week, the steepest such climb at any point during the pandemic.
Alberta could run out of staffed ICU beds on Sept. 29, an internal AHS planning document suggests. But the Opposition NDP is arguing the projections use assumptions that are too optimistic, meaning capacity could be used up earlier than projected.
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The projection makes several assumptions. It includes increases of only four to six COVID-19 patients in ICU each day, despite Alberta recently averaging about twice that number. It also assumes only 54 patients who don’t have COVID-19 will be in ICUs on any given day, even though this number has fluctuated considerably over recent weeks.
“It’s very sobering to look at the AHS projections into the first week of October, projections which show our hospitals without dozens of beds that are needed to care for Albertans whose lives hang in the balance,” NDP Leader Rachel Notley said.
AHS said in a statement the planning document is “a snapshot of our planning at a point in time.” Yiu said Thursday she can’t say exactly when she expects Alberta may hit its hospital capacity limit, or how many ICU beds Alberta will be able to expand to.
Yiu said Alberta is creating critical-care capacity through a series of strategies. Officials are opening all spaces that could be used for an ICU bed, including spaces normally used for surgeries, anesthesia, operations and recovery wards. Patients are being transferred home or to continuing-care sites as soon as they are ready, even if this means moving them out of their community. And all surgeries that do not need to be completed within a three-day window are being postponed.
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“AHS has moved to its highest level in terms of its surge response,” Yiu said. “There is no question our ICUs are under increased pressure.”
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Thursday morning Ottawa will send ventilators to Alberta to help with ICU capacity during the fourth wave, but Yiu indicated there is no shortage of ventilators in the province. There are more than 600 high-quality ventilators that can be used, she said, as well as 200 “less than optimal” machines.
Notley said Alberta must do everything possible to ensure its health-care system does not collapse and Alberta does not activate its critical care triage framework, which would dictate who would receive treatment if not enough resources are available.
“We need every qualified critical care worker we can find from across the provinces, and must also find beds in other provinces to transfer our patients to,” she said.
“I’m truly heartbroken to think of vulnerable Albertans being taken so far from home, so far from their families, and I’m very frustrated, because as we know, this emergency was completely avoidable.”
With files from The Canadian Press
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