Military nurses aim to relieve stress on health-care workers at Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton

·3 min read
Maj. Amy Godwin is the senior nursing officer leading a group of military nurses at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, Alta. (Julia Wong/CBC - image credit)
Maj. Amy Godwin is the senior nursing officer leading a group of military nurses at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, Alta. (Julia Wong/CBC - image credit)

A group of military nurses has been welcomed with open arms by staff at the Edmonton hospital where they will be based, according to the senior nursing officer leading the mission.

The fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic led to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney seeking federal aid to help ease the strain on the province's health-care system. The federal government committed eight critical care nurses from the Canadian Armed Forces, who landed in Edmonton earlier this week.

Maj. Amy Godwin said the nurses will be working 12-hour shifts at the Royal Alexandra Hospital to help the hospital's intensive care unit, which is filled mainly with COVID-19 patients.

"We are really hoping to come in and be able to help alleviate some of that burden and stress that has been placed on those health-care workers for the 19 months so far of this pandemic," she told CBC News Friday.

"Our job is to help Albertans and that's something that we're proud to be able to do."

Integrating the military nurses with the team at the Royal Alex Hospital has been "seamless," she added.

"Our job is to help Albertans and that's something that we're proud to be able to do." - Major Amy Godwin

Godwin, who has been deployed to Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, is clear that this deployment is no different.

"Nursing is nursing," she said.

"Whether it's in an austere environment, an international operation or domestically in Canada... That's what we're trained to do."

The military nurses are scheduled to be in Edmonton until the end of October.

The extra set of hands is a morale boost in the busy ICU, said Dr. Darren Markland, an ICU doctor at the Royal Alex Hospital.

"The fear of being overwhelmed has abated," Markland said, but "we're still treading desperately."

There are 1,101 Albertans in hospital due to COVID-19, including 250 ICU patients, as of Friday's update.

The Royal Alex is running four separate units with four different intensive care physicians, while a fifth doctor circulates the hospital "putting out fires," he explained.

Markland wishes the province's early reopening hadn't made the military necessary.

"Eight nurses are fantastic, but it is a drop in the bucket with the numbers that we are seeing going in and out of this hospital, and the resources that we've already taken from other critical services in this place," he said.

The United Nurses of Alberta had pleaded to Kenney to request federal assistance, so union president Heather Smith is pleased that help has arrived.

"Any rest at this point in time is going to be appreciated," she said.

"It may be that a few nurses don't have to work, aren't requested or demanded to work additional overtime. That perhaps, they may be working an eight- or 12-hour shift, but they're not looking at 16 hours a day."

Courtesy/Alberta Health Services
Courtesy/Alberta Health Services

Images of the nurses in their military fatigues inside an Alberta hospital is striking for health policy expert Lorian Hardcastle.

"Prior to the military arriving, there was perhaps this perception that we could just continue to increase ICU capacity by calling staff from other areas, by re-designating beds," she said.

"But when you have to call in help from other provinces, it sends the message [that] this is truly an emergency and it sends that message loud and clear."

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