‘Alberta is at the edge of a precipice’: Kenney, Copping invited to tour ICUs

CALGARY –

The head of emergency medicine for the Alberta Medical Association is inviting Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Jason Copping to tour an Edmonton-area ICU to “break the disconnect” between political policy and reality.  

“We’ve been told, through the endless months of this relentless pandemic, to keep our distance to stay safe. From the outside, where life feels almost normal, it is understandable to want to keep your distance from the unfathomable horrors we face in the hospitals everyday,”  Dr. Paul Parks wrote in a letter sent to Kenney and Copping on Monday.

“Maintaining distance is necessary to get through this pandemic, but when policy leaders maintain distance from the hospitals where policy is implemented, an adaptive mechanism becomes harmful. To break the disconnect, we urgently need you to see what we are experiencing. We would like to formally invite you to come visit an Edmonton area ICU as soon as possible to see it for yourselves.”

The letter was also sent to Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu, as well as the medical director and clinical department head for the Edmonton zone and the chief of staff to the minister of health.

“Health care workers are doing all they can with every fibre of their being, but human capacity is not an infinitely renewable resource,” it read.  

“We feel we should warn you that health care workers are adept at creating an appearance of order and control in the face of ‘chaos.’ Critical care teams are trained to manage even the most life-threatening situations in a calm and controlled manner.

Premier Jason Kenney, left, and Health Minister Jason Copping have been invited to tour an Edmonton-area ICU by the head of the Alberta Medical Association. (File photos)

“You won’t see people running around in a panic, but please ask every single person working in a hospital what they are facing. Have them walk you through what is normal, and what is extraordinary. We suggest starting with the main ICU to get a sense of the layout of a normal unit, before moving on to the rest of the hospital where ‘overflow ICUs’ have been set up. You’ll quickly see that the ICUs around Edmonton have had to expand into spaces that are increasingly more challenging to care for critically ill patients.”

The letter adds Kenney and Copping need to “see, to hear, to understand what is happening in our hospitals right now.”

“The distance between numbers on a page and the reality inside these walls is impossible to bridge unless you can see for yourselves what we have been trying to communicate to your government and the public,” it read.

“Alberta is at the edge of a precipice, but it is a precipice that right now only we can see. Please let us show it to you.”

Asked about the letter during Tuesday’s update on COVID-19, Kenney said he had not seen the letter and that he would find it inappropriate for people to visit a hospital setting outside of a need for health care.

Copping said he had seen the letter and was working to set up a virtual meeting with Parks.

In a statement, Alberta Health spokesperson Steve Buick said Copping and Kenney “are very familiar with the situation in the hospitals and deeply grateful to the physicians, nurses, and other staff working in ICU and other areas.”

“Minister Copping receives updates directly from AHS CEO Dr. Verna Yiu on a daily basis and sometimes more often. Dr. Yiu has shared with the minister in detail the pressure on the ICUs and the challenges of expanding capacity described in Dr. Parks’ letter,” it read.

“The minister and premier are both willing to visit a hospital to show their appreciation, but this is not an appropriate time given the strict limits on visitors due to the current high level of transmission of COVID-19, as well as the pressure on the hospitals, especially the ICUs.

“We’ll work with AHS to arrange an appropriate time for a visit when it would not risk being perceived as a risk to vulnerable patients or a distraction to the staff.”

On Tuesday, the province announced 663 new COVID-19 cases, along with 26 deaths, increasing the province’s death toll to 2,778 since March of 2020.

Alberta has 19,456 active cases and 1,094 patients in hospital, including 252 in intensive care.

Out of eligible Albertans, 84.5 per cent have one dose and 75.1 per cent have two.

Since the end of August, AHS has also had to delay or postpone roughly 8,500 surgeries across the province, including 805 pediatric surgeries due to the fourth wave of COVID-19. During that same time period, AHS completed 9,100 surgeries, including 3,500 emergency surgeries, and 1,100 cancer surgeries.

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