Red Deer hospital struggling through shortage of anesthesiologists

·2 min read
The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre serves Red Deer and the surrounding communities.  (Heather Marcoux/CBC News - image credit)
The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre serves Red Deer and the surrounding communities. (Heather Marcoux/CBC News - image credit)

CBC Edmonton and CBC Calgary have teamed up to launch a pop-up Red Deer bureau to help us tell your stories from central Alberta. Reporter Heather Marcoux will bring you the news from Red Deer and the surrounding area. Story ideas and tips can be sent to heather.marcoux@cbc.ca.

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre is desperately short of anesthesiologists after four left the hospital during the pandemic, says one of the remaining anesthesiologists.

Dr. Karim Mohamed says the departures leave the hospital, which serves much of central Alberta, with half the anesthesiologists it needs.

"It's been a hard few months," Mohamed told CBC News. "We've had four full-time specialists depart the central zone kind of unexpectedly."

One doctor left for B.C., another for Ontario and two to Calgary, while a fifth retired, he said.

The departures leave the hospital with 11.8 full-time equivalent and five part-time anesthesiologists, he said.

Red Deer needs at least 16 anesthesiologists and has enough work for 20, Mohamed said.

"For the size of centre that we have and the number of surgeries that we do, we really should be around 20. So we're running at about half of what we should be running at.

"Inevitably, that just means that the people who still are here are just going have to take on more work, more on-call, and work longer hours to try to keep up with the surgical capacity."

Alberta Health Services said it is aggressively recruiting for four anesthesiologists to practice in Red Deer, with a fifth posting expected in the coming weeks.

"The vacancies are not expected to have any immediate impact on Red Deer's surgical program, and we hope to hire additional anesthesiologists in the coming months," said spokesperson Melissa Ballantyne in a statement.

"Two anesthesiologists who are currently part-time will be moving to FTE this summer. We are grateful that some anesthesiologists presently working part time to support RDRHC are willing to increase their work hours if needed."

Mohamed said some colleagues nearing retirement have moved from part time to full time, "to make sure that we can continue to staff the surgical rooms that we need to, and provide obstetrics coverage and ICU coverage and everything."

He said recruiting anesthesiologists to Red Deer, which gets fewer resources from the province than Edmonton and Calgary hospitals, won't be easy.

Calgary and Edmonton hospitals also have anesthesiology residency training programs, and Red Deer does not, he said.

Mohamed said medical residents from Calgary and Edmonton should do mandatory rotations in Red Deer in the future so that they can see what life in central Alberta is really like.

"I moved here two and a half years ago," he said. "My wife and I both are physicians here and we love it. We love everything about it. We love the city, we love the people."