Alberta to open temporary hospital beds as system strains amid Omicron

“We will only use these beds if we have to, and in the future, additional beds will be opened as needed and as staff are available,” said AHS President and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu. .

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Alberta is opening field hospitals in Calgary and Edmonton to ease pressures on the healthcare system as hospitals fill with COVID-19 patients during the Omicron wave.

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The move is part of a series of steps the province is taking as COVID-19-related hospitalization rates hit an all-time high, a problem exacerbated by high absenteeism among healthcare workers.

Starting Monday, the province is opening what it calls pandemic response units at the South Health Campus in Calgary as well as the Kaye Edmonton Clinic. In the old site, 12 beds will open next week, and 12 others will open the following week. The latter will start with 18 beds before gaining 18 others.

“We will only use these beds if we have to and, in the future, additional beds will be opened as needed and according to the availability of staff,” said the president and chief executive officer of health services. Alberta, Dr. Verna Yiu, at a press conference Thursday afternoon. She said patients in those units might be recovering from COVID-19 and considered a low risk for transmission of the virus, or those with less complex health needs than those in traditional acute care beds.

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“We can’t just open more beds. It’s not that easy. You’ve heard before about the challenges we have with our workforce, and it’s more of a challenge now than it has been at any other time during the pandemic.

Yiu said absenteeism rates among AHS staff increased during the Omicron wave, with many having to self-isolate due to infection or exposure to the virus, which she said poses a challenge. “serious challenge” to the health system.

She said around 5% of healthcare staff are currently on sick leave at any given time, which amounts to around 5,500 workers. This means that between 18 and 20% of shifts are missed, a number that normally hovers around 15%.

As of Wednesday, there were 1,131 Albertans hospitalized with COVID-19, surpassing the previous high of 1,128 patients on September 27, 2021. Premier Jason Kenney said he expects there to be 1,500 or more patients with COVID-19 in non-ICU hospital beds at peak of fifth wave hospitalizations.

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There are 108 patients with the virus in intensive care units across Alberta, well below the peaks seen in Alberta’s three previous waves of the pandemic, an emerging trend as the relatively milder Omicron variant has become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the province.

Health Minister Jason Copping said Omicron had a different effect on the healthcare system than previous variants, straining hospitals while having less of an effect on intensive care units. Yiu pointed out that intensive care rates were still up 18% over the past week, compared to 40% for hospitalizations.

“We are not necessarily seeing an increase in the number of very sick people, like in the fall, but we are seeing an increase in the number of people who may not need intensive care care but need support in emergency departments or in hospitals, and that’s where the real pressures lie,” Yiu said.

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Surgical postponements are also starting again as part of the effort to relieve pressure on hospitals. Yiu said the province is working to do as many surgeries as possible to reduce the long backlog of the fourth wave, but some delays are now necessary.

Alberta is completing 90% of its normal surgical volume this week, up from 99% the previous week.

Nursing students and unvaccinated staff called to ease pressure on staff

There are about 8,500 beds in Alberta’s hospital system, including about 6,300 equipped with the staff and machinery needed to care for typical COVID-19 patients, Yiu said. 278 additional inpatient hospital beds have been added to the system and 883 beds have been reallocated to COVID patients. Acute care hospital capacity is currently at 89%, Yiu said, a figure that would be 93% without the peak spaces.

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To ease workforce constraints, Alberta will also transition to a model of care in some settings where a team collectively cares for a large group of patients, instead of just healthcare providers. Individuals care for a smaller number of patients. Part of that effort will involve 610 nursing students, who are receiving college credit for working in hospitals during the fifth wave.

Yiu said data shows that those who have received a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine are less likely to have severe illness from the virus – 35.5% of Albertans aged 18 or older have received this injection of reminder.

Elsewhere on Thursday, AHS said about 500 of 1,400 eligible unvaccinated doctors and healthcare workers have opted to return to work while performing frequent COVID-19 testing.

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The decision to allow unvaccinated staff to return to work was made under the direction of the provincial government in late December in anticipation of staffing needs due to a high number of Omicron infections. Staff are required to pay for the tests, with the policy due to be reviewed at the end of March.

Ninety-seven percent of AHS full-time and part-time employees and 99.8 percent of physicians are fully immune to COVID-19, AHS said. The health authority added that it was continuing to work to address staffing shortages.

“Filling and recruiting vacancies to help address staffing issues across the healthcare system is always a priority for AHS and happens year-round, in real time,” said the agency.

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Alberta Hospitalization Growth Rate Slowing: British Columbia Modeler

As COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise, Alberta is seeing a ‘dramatic decrease’ in the growth rate of hospital admissions, says Dean Karlan, University of Victoria BC COVID-19 professor ModelingGroup.

It’s a trend that was also seen in North America during the Omicron wave, and Karlan said it’s a potential reason for some optimism that hospitals won’t be overwhelmed in the coming weeks.

“The emergence of Omicron was extremely worrying, an extremely rapid growth rate of 20-30% per day. We were concerned that eventually there would be 20-30% more hospital admissions,” he said.

“But it looks like by the end of December, that growth rate has come down significantly from that point, maybe 10% in some areas, and in Alberta maybe even a little lower than that. This means you have a slower climb to that peak. This pushes the peak later and broadly spreads the demand for health care to make it potentially more manageable. »

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Admissions to Omicron Hospital in Alberta are expected to peak around the first week of February, Karlan said, and hospital occupancy is expected to peak about 10 days later.

But the modeler added that creating projections is more difficult than ever, due to a combination of the novelty of the Omicron variant and a lack of reliable case data, as the virus has exceeded the testing capacity of virus.

“Really, a very uncertain future lies ahead, but at least the good news is that hospitals are much better than we projected a few weeks ago,” he said.

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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