‘Perfect storm’ has Albertans waiting long hours in waiting hospital emergency rooms
Zolton Yaremie is tired after a grueling ordeal in the emergency room with his daughter.
The family lives in Andrew, Alberta, so he first took nine-year-old Hailey to Lamont Hospital, about 30 kilometers away, when her abdominal pain became severe on Friday.
Unable to get Lamont a CT scan, Yaremie and Hailey were told to go to the emergency department at Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, 70 kilometers away.
The couple arrived around 1:30 p.m. « By the time we walked in and sat up in bed, I think it was just after 10 p.m., » Yaremie said.
On Monday, the little girl still did not feel better. So they returned to the emergency room for another eight-hour wait.
« I think the most frustrating thing for me was seeing my daughter in the state she was in and not being able to do anything about it, » Yaremie said.
“Anyone who has a child – you want to take their pain away from them and take it for yourself,” he said. « I would sit there for how many hours it would take if I could take it away from him. »
Yaremie is one of many Albertans who have waited hours and hours in emergency departments across the province.
Wait times can vary from hospital to hospital and depend on the time of day, but can sometimes range from two hours to 5 pm.
Nazeem Muhajarine, an epidemiologist at the University of Saskatchewan, said some hospital pressure is the result of patients with COVID-19, but there are other factors.
He said some are patients who have postponed care during the pandemic and some are generally in need of care and on top of that we are now entering flu and cold season.
« It’s like a perfect storm where the demand for care hasn’t dissipated, » Muhajarine said.
“On the supply side, there are real gaps and deficits that arise with supply.”
The caregivers concerned
Heather Smith, president of the United Nurses of Alberta, said Monday there was a staffing crisis in the province.
« It didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t just happen because of COVID. It built up, » she said.
« We need to retain the workforce that we have. We need to stop the bloodshed and try to stabilize our workforce. We need to look at what we can do to encourage workers to return. »
During the pandemic, healthcare workers – exhausted by the ups and downs of the various waves of COVID-19 – have left the workforce.
Those who remain are doing what they can to fill in the gaps left behind, said Sandra Azocar, vice-president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.
We have to stop the bloodshed and try to stabilize our workforce.-Heather Smith
« Our members are constantly being asked to work extraordinary and dangerous numbers of hours to essentially fill the gaps in the staffing shortages we are seeing in the healthcare system, » Azocar said.
« This creates havoc not only for our members, but also for Albertans who depend on a public system that meets their needs. »
The two unions, along with other representatives of health care workers, are requesting a meeting with Jason Copping, Alberta’s new health minister.
Alberta Health Services recognizes that hospitals across the province are dealing with an increased volume of patients in emergency departments.
He said in the first quarter of 2022, there were 505,421 emergency department visits in Alberta, a 15% increase from the same period in 2021.
« We recognize that in some cases wait times are too long, » said AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson.
“Circulation in the emergency department depends on the whole system. We value the work of our physicians and frontline staff and are working closely with them to improve access and reduce wait times.”
Williamson said AHS continues to « aggressively recruit » frontline healthcare workers.
He said AHS had 270 more employees working in emergency services today than a year ago, and 783 more employees compared to April 2018.
As for Yaremie, he has empathy for members of the healthcare system.
« You sit there for eight hours and you see someone sorting people all the time and then doors [are] just spinning… There is no respite for them,” he said.
« They could work from start to finish of their shift and not take a break and not gain ground. »