Red Deer Regional Hospital diverts surgery patients over weekend due to wait times

Red Deer Regional Hospital was forced to divert surgery patients elsewhere over the weekend and local doctors say it’s a reminder of just how stretched the central Alberta hospital truly is.

The hospital is the only regional referral centre for the Central health zone, providing health services to more than 450,000 people.

It has been plagued by operating capacity problems and bed shortages for years, and Alberta Health Services said it transferred 14 urgent but stable surgical patients to Edmonton and Calgary between Friday night and Monday morning.

According to AHS, the protocol was put in place to reduce wait times, and all emergency cases were handled in Red Deer as usual over the weekend.

Dr. Sean Greg, a general surgeon at the hospital, said it was the first time it had been implemented at the hospital, but that it was inevitable.

“If you’ve got a few days in a row that for whatever reason, [emergency cases are] high and you have no capacity to respond to that increased demand, then you’re going to run into this challenge perennially.” 

He said having inadequate access to emergency resources and elective resources is a daily problem.

“Whether we’ve enacted [it] or not, the patients are waiting longer than they should,” he said.

“It’s more than an inconvenience. It is actually a hazard … We know that their outcomes are worse. We know that their recoveries are longer. We know that those are days of suffering.”

Operating room capacity

The surgeon said the problem will continue to persist if operating room capacity is not addressed in central Alberta.

“Our immediate issue is not pandemic related. Our immediate issue is a shortage of manpower, and so we can’t even get back to that pre-existing inadequate level. And that’s due to challenges in recruiting and retaining anesthesia and nursing.”

AHS said Monday that it is planning to increase surgeries at the hospital this week, and is working to recruit more operating room staff for the Red Deer Regional Hospital.

But Greg said the hospital has had ongoing problems with retaining key staff and it’s a difficult environment to work and enjoy.

“I have to say I’m discouraged,” he said. “It’s been a decade of me and my colleagues trying to keep the ship afloat and not a lot of support.”

In 2017, doctors at the hospital warned that it was short more than 100 beds and in desperate need of expansion.

Then in January 2020, provincial government committed $100 million in funding to support the expansion and refurbishment of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre — the first step in a development that advocates have been requesting for years.

Dr. Kym Jim, a physician at the hospital who is with the Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta, said this  can’t come soon enough, and the society for hospital expansion has been “very worried about patient care for a long time.”

“Red Deer, and the hospital in Red Deer, need funds today to operate and to expand programs,” he said.

“Many of these programs cannot wait for whatever number of years is going to be required to get a new building.”

View Source