COVID-19 ICU admissions on the rise as Alberta doctors prepare for health strain

CALGARY — After another increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations and ICU admissions were announced Thursday, the specifics of a new provincial promise are being called into question. 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw told Albertans on Wednesday that an additional 425 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds for COVID-19 patients will be created. 

Those beds will be direly needed as the province continues high daily case counts of the virus.

As of Thursday, there are 383 Albertans in hospital and 84 in intensive care with the disease. 

But while Hinshaw said more beds are on the way, they’ll come at a cost. 

Paul Boucher, president of the Alberta Medical Association and an intensive care physician, believes the beds alone won’t do much. 

“When you ramp up capacity in that way, I think it’s important to remember this is not just a place and a bed to put patients,” Boucher told CTV News.

“There’s a lot of other things that are required to look after these patients beyond the physical space to put them and even a ventilator. It requires a whole health care team.” 

Assembling those teams is already proving to be difficult. 

Many health care workers say staffing is an issue at the best of times, but with outbreaks ongoing at three Calgary hospitals, hundreds of workers are out sick or isolating at home. 

So Alberta Health Services (AHS) is hiring. 

A statement says the organization is “advancing aggressive recruitment and staffing strategies to ensure that we are able to staff the beds.”

That includes posting more than 1,100 clinically-related frontline jobs and looking to retirees, students and existing employees.

“I specialize in cardiology, however we have done a four-hour training session in our main ICU (recently),” said Cyrena Quinn, an RN at Foothills Medical Centre RN. “At any time we could be redeployed to any ICU that needs us.

“It’s not that we can’t do the job, but it’s definitely a daunting idea.”

And if someone like Quinn is moved, another procedure could suffer. 

“People are still having heart attacks,” she said. “They’re still having strokes, they’re still having traumas and they still need a bed as well. Staffing is definitely tight.”

Another issue with creating more beds could be space. 

The province has also promised 2,000 more acute care beds. They, along with the new ICU beds, will be made by moving patients from acute to continuing care facilities, transferring them to other areas in the province, repurposing other clinical areas for ICU care and postponing more elective surgeries.

Throughout the week, ICU capacity has held around 90 per cent, said AHS.

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