All elective surgeries and most outpatient procedures in Calgary this week have been postponed as hospitals contend with surging COVID-19 cases and staff shortages.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) says the move will allow it to redeploy staff to intensive care and critical care beds in the area. The province usually has a capacity of only 66 ICU beds in Calgary, but it has expanded that number to 95 to deal with an influx of patients with COVID-19.
Patients whose surgeries have been cancelled will be contacted and their procedures will be rescheduled for “as soon as possible,” said AHS. It will continue with urgent and emergent procedures, as well as prioritized cancer surgeries.
“We do not make these decisions lightly and we acknowledge that postponing surgeries has a deep impact on those impacted patients, their families and their loved ones,” AHS said in an emailed statement on Wednesday evening.
AHS said the situation is serious, and Albertans are being asked to help reduce community transmission by getting vaccinated, which will help reduce strain on the health-care system.
Of the 147 patients in Alberta now in intensive care beds, 89 per cent are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.
“Many of us feel that at this point, we should know better, and we should have learned from what we have gone through in the past 18 months,” said Dr. Fiona Mattatall, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Calgary.
“These were preventable and predictable things. And this is also why we’re not seeing this in other places in Canada or necessarily other places in the world. These results are because of bad planning and bad policy.”
What we have been doing in Alberta is not working.– Dr. Fiona Mattatall
Mattatall said out of the six surgeries her team had scheduled for tomorrow, just one will go ahead.
In her area of practice, emergency surgeries that will go forward include C-sections and some cancer surgeries, she said, but the kinds of surgeries considered “elective” and being cancelled include procedures to remove what might possibly be cancer and hysterectomies for women who require blood transfusions or are in debilitating pain.
“So people’s lives are being put on hold because of where we are in the pandemic. How I’m feeling is very frustrated for my patients and for Albertans,” Mattatall said.
Mattatall said she splits blame for the health-care system’s current situation between two groups: Those who choose not to be vaccinated and the decision-makers who make the policy decisions that affect Albertans’ health.
“I think in human nature, until it affects you directly, it’s hard to see these effects. Unfortunately, that’s going to be more and more Albertans who will start to see these effects as their loved ones are impacted,” she said.
“Clearly what we have been doing in Alberta is not working.”
Just five days ago, Alberta had postponed as many as 60 per cent of surgeries in some zones, including 30 per cent of scheduled surgeries in Calgary.
There are also staff shortages across Alberta, with bed closures in at least 22 communities. On Wednesday, the province announced that the town of Fort Macleod would have no emergency department access the following day because no doctors were available.
On Wednesday, 18 people died of COVID-19 in Alberta and 647 were in hospital. Neither Premier Jason Kenney nor Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw were made available to address the situation.
Opposition health critic David Shepherd said in an emailed statement that the news about COVID-19 in Alberta on Wednesday was overwhelming.
“To all those Albertans who, for one reason or another, have not gotten your shot, today is a message. Please, listen to your peers and loved ones. Get your shot. Don’t wait any longer,” Shepherd said.
“To Jason Kenney and the UCP, who even now are working to protect themselves from political backlash instead of protecting the health of Albertans. Stop hiding. Look at what is happening in our hospitals and communities. It’s time to step up and show leadership. Implement the same measures that we see are working in other jurisdictions, including vaccine passports.”