Edmonton doctors form new pandemic response committee

·3 min read

Doctors in the Edmonton zone of Alberta Health Services are setting up their own pandemic response committee to advise the public and comment on policy set by the province to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The Strategic COVID-19 Pandemic Committee will be co-chaired by Dr. James Talbot, Alberta's former chief medical officer of health, and Dr. Noel Gibney, an intensive care physician and professor emeritus at the University of Alberta.

The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association (EZMSA) has 1,700 members who work in emergency medicine, intensive care, family medicine, public health, infectious diseases, and internal medicine. They decided the committee would be the best way to share their expertise with the public.

EZMSA president Dr. Ernie Schuster hopes the group can combat misinformation about COVID-19 and possibly influence public policy.

"The problem is always that you're mixing, basically, economic priorities versus realities of what is happening in health care, especially with COVID," he said.

"Hopefully we'll be able to make statements that will reassure the public. We'll give some guidance to the public. If we can be heard by the policymakers, that would be wonderful."

The news release from EZMSA said the committee also comes in response to a "decrease in public trust in the Alberta government."

Premier Jason Kenney has faced widespread public criticism for his reluctance to implement stringent restrictions to curb the spread of the virus due to potential effects on the economy. New measures announced earlier this week are seen by many medical experts as not going far enough.

Edmonton-City Centre MLA David Shepherd, the NDP Opposition critic for health, said EZMSA's decision to form its own pandemic committee is a sign of how the medical community has lost trust with the provincial government.

"These are physicians who, they and their colleagues everyday, are going in, they are putting their lives on the line, they are risking their physical and mental health," Shepherd said.

"They are seeing the very real pressures and the impacts of this government's poor decisions and so they are stepping up now to do their part in providing Albertans with more information from an unbiased perspective."

Situation critical

In an interview with CBC Radio Active on Thursday, Talbot said Alberta's pandemic performance was good in the early days but that the situation has deteriorated over the last month.

While the Edmonton and Calgary zones have the most cases, Talbot said every zone in the province is affected. He said overloaded hospitals in the large centres affect smaller centres, which rely on big city hospitals for advanced critical care.

"What we're really trying to do is highlight for people exactly how critical this situation is," Talbot said.

"We're doubling every two weeks. We could be looking at a situation as early as Christmas in which there are overcrowded emergency departments, ICU administrators and ICU physicians are having to make really terrible decisions about who gets an ICU bed and who gets a ventilator."

The committee will meet for the first time on Tuesday.