Alberta increasing home care funding to open hospital beds for COVID-19 patients

EDMONTON –

The Alberta government announced on Thursday funds to increase capacity for the home care system to make room for COVID-19 patients filling up the province’s ICUs, but no new measures to reduce the spread of the virus, and no vaccine passports.

The province is spending $36 million to pay home care workers more and hire additional employees to care for more Albertans in their own homes, instead of hospitals.

“Increase in staffing will mean that we can move more patients home from the hospital when they are ready,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said.

Shandro said there are 400 Albertans waiting to be discharged from the hospital to go to their continuing care facilities.

“It’s better for the system and other patients because it frees up opportunities for the next patient who needs it,” Shandro said.

“It will help us get people home and preserve space in acute care, especially as we see the number of COVID-19 admissions rise.”

‘MUCH-NEEDED BREATHING ROOM’

Dr. Verna Yiu, Alberta Health Services’ president and CEO, said the province is experiencing “significant capacity challenges,” especially in intensive care units.

She explained Alberta typically has 173 ICU beds but the fourth wave has prompted AHS to open 93 surge beds to deal with the increase in admissions and give the system “some much-needed breathing room.”

There are currently 231 people in ICU. About 70 per cent of them — 154 patients — have COVID-19 and 89 per cent of them are either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, she said.

“Although we stated that we’re looking at a current capacity of 87 per cent, remember that this includes surge beds. If we did not create the surge beds, we would be over 130 per cent capacity,” Dr. Yiu said.

AHS postponed all scheduled-elected surgeries in the Calgary Zone for the remainder of the week, and has also cancelled some non-urgent transplant operations and cancer surgeries where cancer is suspected but not confirmed.

“The pandemic is having significant impact on many Alberta patients, not just those with COVID-19,” Dr. Yiu went on to say.

“We currently just don’t have the capacity to provide that care while also ensuring we have the capacity to look after patients who are very ill with COVID-19, as well as patients who suffered trauma of some sort, such as injuries from a car accident or emergency like a heart attack or a stroke, so we have to postpone non-urgent scheduled surgeries to ensure that we have the space, the staff, physicians and resources we need to care for those who need it.”

To also deal with the increase in hospitalizations, AHS is preparing to potentially open its pandemic response unit at the Kaye Edmonton Clinic in the near future to treat patients recovering from COVID-19.

The pandemic response units at the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary are open.

VACCINE PASSPORTS

Reporters asked Shandro repeatedly about whether Alberta would introduce vaccine passports, but he said “it’s not an easy answer,” and instead pointed to businesses that have taken the initiative to require proof.

Premier Jason Kenney, who has continually denied the province would adopt vaccine passports, and Shandro have said the government is working on a downloadable QR for Albertans who want to go to restaurants, gyms and events that require proof of vaccination.

“If you are going to have a printable card, you are going to create a QR electronic code, that’s a vaccine passport,” said Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt. “It walks like a vaccine passport, it quacks like a vaccine passport, it swims like a vaccine passport. It’s a vaccine passport, they just don’t want to call it that.”

“They don’t want to mandate things, they want to decentralize it, they want to rely on private businesses. They don’t want to have big government telling people what they can do and show us your papers, but they are creating a system that will allow private businesses to say, ‘Show us your papers.'”

Many other jurisdictions across the province have adopted vaccine passports, and Shandro did say Alberta will look at their evidence.

With files from The Canadian Press

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