3 COVID outbreaks force south Edmonton hospital to divert critical patients to other facilities

·3 min read

Contending with three COVID-19 outbreaks, the Grey Nuns Community Hospital in Mill Woods has been placed on diversion protocols, meaning most critical patients are being redirected to other emergency departments across the city.

The temporary measures are expected to remain in place until at least Friday morning, Alberta Health Services said in a statement to CBC News.

The measures mean critical care patients being transported by EMS are not being accepted by the emergency department, AHS said. Ambulances are being dispatched to other emergency departments in Edmonton.

The ER remains open to other EMS patients and walk-in patients.

The hospital, managed by Covenant Health, is contending with outbreaks on three units.

Health officials are also investigating a single possible case of COVID-19 in the intensive care unit, Covenant Health said in a statement to CBC News on Thursday.

"Definitive test results are still pending" but outbreak protocols have been implemented on the unit to ensure the ongoing protection of patients and staff, the statement said.

Covenant Health said there are currently eight active cases among patients and 20 health-care workers have tested positive.

Two deaths have been connected to the outbreaks.

"Hospital capacity remains high at all acute-care facilities across the Edmonton zone, including ICUs," Covenant Health said in the statement.

"While demand on our ICU is significant, we continue to have capacity at the Grey Nuns and Misericordia hospital sites, and across the zone."

AHS said the diversion of critical patients is intended to ease the strain of ongoing capacity issues at the Grey Nuns, pressures which are now being felt at hospitals across the province.

Despite the cancellation of some non-emergency surgeries and other "surge measures" adopted two weeks ago, AHS said hospitals continue to respond to "significant capacity issues."

Isolation requirements mean hospitals have reduced bed capacity. Continuing care beds across the Edmonton zone are currently closed due to site outbreaks and keeping hospitals well staffed as workers fall ill or are forced into quarantine remains a challenge, AHS said.

"This is part of a larger zone and Edmonton/Calgary issue – we are experiencing significant capacity issues across our large urban sites," said the statement from AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson.

"There are significant pressures and demands on the healthcare system as a result of increasing COVID-19 cases.

"Capacity at Edmonton zone hospitals is regularly exceeding 120 per cent as a result of increased COVID-19 isolation demands on the health-care system. Similar capacity levels are being seen in Calgary."

'A dramatic impact'

The diversion has put a significant strain on other emergency departments across the city, said a doctor who works at an Edmonton area hospital and spoke with CBC News on the condition that her name be kept confidential.

"It is extremely rare to have ambulances diverted away from a hospital," the doctor said.

"In a situation where the hospitals within the Edmonton zone are at capacity or overcapacity, adding just a couple of ambulances a day can have a dramatic impact on what the other hospitals are capable of managing and dealing with."

She said other hospitals in the region are already operating past capacity. She expects the situation will only worsen in the coming weeks.

Without an extended lockdown to curb the spread of the virus within the community, she expects patient care will continue to suffer.

If government health officials fail to clamp down, case numbers will escalate to where they will overwhelm health-care facilities, she said.

"I don't think that the government is doing enough," she said. " And I think that we've already kind of missed the boat on appropriate restrictions. And now we are going to be playing catch-up."

"This clearly indicates that we were already over capacity. And now we are going to be dealing with this spike in COVID hospitalizations and it's going to push us even further over the brink."