Alberta considers transferring ICU patients to Ontario as hospitalizations rise

Sep 17 2021, 5:02 pm

Alberta’s healthcare system is under “extreme pressure” as the province continues to deal with a large number of COVID-19 cases during the fourth wave of the virus.

As of September 16, there were 896 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 222 Albertans in intensive care.

During a Thursday afternoon press conference, Alberta Health Services (AHS) president and CEO, Dr. Verna Yiu, gave an update on the province’s intensive care units (ICUs). She noted that AHS has reached out to other provinces to see if they may have availability to accept some of Alberta’s ICU patients.

There are currently 310 intensive care beds open in Alberta, she said, which includes 137 “surge spaces.” Of those surge spaces, the province has added an additional 43 in the past week.

Including the additional surge beds, Alberta’s ICU capacity is at 86%. “Remember,” said Dr. Yiu, “without these additional surge beds, provincial ICU capacity would be in excess of 155%.”

“We continue to add capacity wherever and whenever we can,” she said, “and we can also see more and more patients are actually being admitted to the critical care units.”

Dr. Yiu noted, of the 268 patients in Alberta’s ICUs, 75% are afflicted with COVID-19. In the past week, the number of patients in ICU has increased by 16%.

“This fourth wave has resulted in the sharpest increase in ICU patients that we have seen throughout the pandemic,” Dr. Yiu said. “We do not have the ability to simply open more and more ICU spaces and hospital beds, and we do not have an endless number of staff who can provide critical care.”

“There is no question that our ICUs are under extreme pressure. We continually are finding ways to increase our capacity, and our numbers change daily if not hourly.” The doctor outlined that AHS’s goal right now is to open as many critical care spaces as they can, safely staffed, and create the room that Alberta needs, anticipating the numbers that are coming ahead.

“Our pandemic response units in Calgary and Edmonton remain in a state of readiness, and we will open them if the situation requires that level of care.”

That said, Dr. Yiu told Albertans that AHS has reached out to other provinces to see if they have any available units where Albertans could get the care that they need. They are also asking if these provinces have skilled frontline staff who may be willing to come to Alberta to assist us, said Dr. Yiu.

“Ontario has graciously offered their help,” she added, “and we are in discussions with them regarding potential transferred patients if needed.”

The doctor said that they remain hopeful that it will not come to those terms, as their teams continue to add critical care capacity in Alberta.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, tweeted an infographic showing the vaccine status of those who have been in the ICU with the virus.

Between June 1 and September 15, 87.5% of intensive care patients were unvaccinated, while 4.69% were partially vaccinated.

Since June 1, 7.81% of those in ICU were fully immunized.

Health officials reported 1,718 new cases of COVID-19 in Alberta on Thursday, bringing the total number of active infections in the province to 18,706.

As of September 15, there have been 5,685,024 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine administered in Alberta. Of the province’s eligible population, 79.6% of people have had at least one dose of vaccine, including 71.5% who are considered fully immunized with two doses.

Dr. Yiu noted that the province has seen an increase in people booking appointments to be vaccinated in the past several days.

“This is very positive, and I thank you,” the doctor said, “and I thank everyone who is immunized.”

Elle McLeanElle McLean

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