Former Sudbury woman speaks out on front line medical care of Alberta’s pandemic emergency

·3 min read

A former Northern Ontario woman now working in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in a Calgary hospital says she is upset that the COVID-19 pandemic is lasting so long.

She said poor political leadership and the anti-vaxx crowd are responsible for the continuing spread of the disease.

Sarah Erickson is a graduate of North Bay's Canadore College and is a respiratory therapist looking after seriously ill COVID patients.

Erickson worked in Sudbury and New Brunswick before heading to Alberta.

"I am a respiratory therapist, as is my husband. We both work in the ICU. We only see the sickest patients. Our specialty is airways and ventilators. Therefore we see every COVID patient," Erickson said.

As it turns out, Alberta is in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic emergency. The provincial government declared an emergency on Sept. 16 as case counts and hospital admissions were on the rise. Erickson said working with so many critically ill patients has been intense.

"Right now our ICU is at 150 per cent capacity, and that includes surge beds," she said, adding that 90 per cent of the seriously ill patients, ranging in age from 30 to 70, are unvaccinated.

"This is directly a result of low vaccine rates and our poor leadership," said Erickson.

She specifically targeted Premier Jason Kenney, who earlier this year promised Albertans the “best summer ever.” She also named former Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro. She blamed both for "fueling the fire of anti-vaxxers."

Erickson said that easing restrictions and allowing the province to open up resulted in the fourth wave of the pandemic coming on hard.

"Alberta is very split with people who are vaxxed and follow rules to people who still think it's fake and don't follow any rules," said Erickson.

"It's the wild west. Without specific rules or laws or mandates those who wish to bend every recommendation do so because they 'don't have to'," she said.

"Kenney has always tried to bend to the far right to get votes, regardless of people dying. Case in point; 'let’s cut nurses and roll back wages across the board so my budget looks better come voting time'," Erickson said.

She added that the intensity of the pandemic is different in all of Canada's provinces, but it is worse in those provinces that have lower vaccination rates and where the political leadership hasn't taken it seriously. Saskatchewan and Manitoba are two examples, she said.

She added that it has made her work more stressful than she ever imagined it would be.

"Ourselves and our co-workers are very stressed and very tired. It's been an incredibly long two years. The rate at which we are working is not sustainable. Several colleagues have taken a leave of absence because they can no longer cope," said Erickson.

Another concern is that she and her husband, as front-line health workers, are constantly aware of their own health and the importance of not bringing COVID-19 home with them.

"We take it very seriously,” said Erickson. “We have a four-year-old daughter. We change before we get home and have showers before we see her. We both have senior parents, two of which are immunocompromised.

“Luckily most of our family is vaccinated and take precautions seriously. Until everyone who can be vaccinated is vaccinated, we are concerned for our daughter's health and definitely minimize contact with those who aren't vaccinated.”

She said she remembers how it was just after the SARS epidemic back in the mid-2000s when she graduated from college.

"While Sudbury wasn't directly affected it still changed our practices,” Erickson said. “Never did I think we'd have a true pandemic, especially one that's gone on for so long."

Len Gillis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,

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