Alberta emergency room doctors call for solutions to overloaded system

The Alberta Medical Association says persistent staffing issues are impacting all facets of the province’s health care system, resulting in significant care deficits for patients.

The AMA says these pressures are felt most acutely in emergency departments across the province.

“The combined demand for emergency treatment, COVID-19 cases, pandemic-related delays in care, and gaps in managing the conditions created by changes in the supply of family physicians have overwhelmed hospital services. Alberta emergency and impacted countless Albertans,” the association said in its latest care gap assessment document.

“The combined effect is severe access blockage, where emergency department patients requiring hospital care cannot access the hospital beds they need, leading to overcrowding and delays in care. “

“Beds don’t take care of people”

Dr. Warren Thirsk’s first daily interaction in his role as an emergency physician at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital is usually with someone who is genuinely upset from waiting in the emergency room for hours.

“The first thing we start with is to defuse everyone’s anger and frustration for sitting there for 12 hours, and so I’m going to say to them, ‘I just started five minutes ago, I don’t I’m not really responsible for your wait or any of the issues that happened, but I’m here to help you now,” he said.

“This conversation is a typical everyday experience, and it’s not going to get better for the rest of my day.”

Thirsk says the emergency department is usually the last resort for all aspects of the health care system, so when his department sees these kinds of delays, it’s a sure sign that the rest of the system is already operating in deficit mode. and that also affects emergency rooms.

“For example, if someone needs an operation and there is no surgical bed to admit them, they are stuck in the emergency department and an emergency bed waiting for their operation. “, did he declare.

“I’ve actually been admitting patients over the last month to the hospital from an emergency stretcher or an ambulance stretcher in the hallway because we have nowhere to offload them. We have nowhere to put them. We have no staff to take care of them.”

Thirsk said Alberta needs more than beds to make meaningful change.

“Beds don’t look after people. They don’t help you go to the bathroom. They don’t monitor your pain. They don’t change your dressings. They don’t clean the room you’re in. The bed is just a physical thing,” he said.

“We missed the fact that we put a person in their bed and needed staff around the clock to attend to the person in the bed.”

“Burnout rates are higher than ever”

Dr. Timothy Gash works in the emergency room at Red Deer Regional Hospital. He says COVID-19 has only exacerbated an already taxed system.

Dr. Timothy Gash works in the emergency room at Red Deer Regional Hospital. (Submitted by Dr. Timothy Gash)

“Our system was running frequently before the pandemic at, you know, 95% or even 115% capacity at various times, which really leaves no room for additional need, which we’ve clearly seen over the past two years,” he said. mentioned.

“Burout rates are higher than ever. The number of providers who are considering reducing the services they offer is very common.”

Gash said Alberta has also seen a large number of health care workers leave the province in recent years and they will not be returning.

“We haven’t had a medical services contract for over two years, and we’ve had a very contentious relationship with our current government, which has made it very difficult to recruit new positions.”

AMA looking for solutions

To address the problem, the AMA says the province could do several things.

In the short term, the association is asking Alberta Health Services to share specific data with doctors on wait times and blockages to care and specialty care so they can track trends and offer advice. on how to direct resources.

In the long term, the AMA says the province must work to attract and incentivize physicians to come and work here, which would also help improve access to primary care through family physicians.

It says AHS should consult with physicians and other frontline healthcare workers about what the system needs to provide the best patient care and improve system efficiency and sustainability, and emphasize improved after-hours specialist care.

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