'At the very edge of the cliff': AMA says triage already happening in Alberta hospitals
The head of emergency medicine for the Alberta Medical Association says while they haven’t officially triggered critical triage protocol to the extreme level, major components of triage have already started at hospitals in the province as surge capacity fills up.
“We do have many more critically ill patients in our ward that in normal operating times would be in our ICU, but there’s delays getting them into our ICU now because it’s so difficult,” Dr. Paul Park said.
“We’re not even at our peak. We are at the very edge of the cliff where we’re going to do this critical triage and make life and death decisions.”
It's because of this that Alberta doctors are calling on the province to implement stricter health measures.
Dr. James Talbot, a former chief medical officer of health for the province, says he is not surprised the health care system is in its current state.
“We have a government that refuses to use the tools that we have to, to bring us under control,” Talbot said.
“As a consequence, I have physician friends on the front lines and they’re going to be scarred for life having to make life or death decisions about who gets a ventilator and who gets an ICU bed.”
The premier was not available Friday to address the health crisis, but during a press conference on April 13, Jason Kenney said he would not put doctors in a position of deciding which patients live or die.
“That to me is an absolute no-go zone, and that’s why we keep open the option of additional targeted measures should they be strictly necessary,” he said.
Fast forward five months and Alberta hospitals are seeing the highest-ever number of patients being admitted for critical care; over the past five days, the average number of COVID-19 ICU admissions has been more than 23 per day.
“This was avoidable,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said. “This was a real abdication of leadership by the provincial government.”
Because of the high number of COVID-19 patients in Alberta hospitals, thousands of Albertans had their surgeries or appointments delayed or cancelled.
Ward 6 Coun. Jeff Davison said his six-year-old daughter’s kidney surgery has now been pushed back.
“The challenge we have right now is she’s in line to talk to surgeons about her kidneys – and we have things going on with her back – and the scary part is we’re now being shuffled to having those conversations in February," Davison said.
“This is happening to thousands of people in our city that require critical health care," he added. "They are being put off because too many people don’t believe the impact of COVID-19 is real."
Davison’s daughter suffers from a rare condition called VACTERL association and will require more surgeries in the future. He worries what options they will have should there be an emergency.
“It’s scary for everybody because you don’t know if an emergency happens, do we go to Saskatoon? Are we going to be shipped off somewhere? And is there going to be triage?”
The province has implemented a Restrictions Exemption Program and a handful of other health measures to bring COVID-19 cases down. However, Dr. Talbot said the targeted measures in place aren’t enough.
“Make vaccine passports mandatory for all non-essential services because that would guarantee that there would be a surge in people being immunized,” Dr. Talbot said.
Physicians are also calling for a temporary stop in mass gatherings, including in schools and sporting events. These calls come as Ottawa sends up to eight ICU nurses and aeromedical transport for in-province and out-of-province critical care patient transfers within Canada.
“Yes, we need their help, but we need to have our leadership do our part so that these numbers don’t just keep on climbing,” Dr. Park said .