As COVID-19 cases rise throughout the province, the addition of six ICU surge beds at Medicine Hat Regional Hospital is both needed relief and a dire sign that the provincial health-care system is in crisis.
Six additional ICU beds means those beds are coming from somewhere else, whether that be another unit within MHRH or from other areas of the province.
On Wednesday, Alberta Health Services announced that certain regions would experience ICU bed reductions. The South zone, which encompasses everything south of Calgary, including Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, received no reductions, most likely due to the high case count in this region.
Medicine Hat and Cypress County have some of the highest concentrations of COVID cases per capita in the province. As of Thursday evening, Medicine Hat had 533.38 cases per 100,000 people and Cypress County had 543.77. The only region that surpasses those numbers is the Banff area, which has 700.41.
MHRH currently has 51 COVID-19 positive inpatients, with 11 in ICU. Had surge beds not been added, MHRH’s ICU would not have had the resources necessary to treat all 11 patients.
While Medicine Hat needs the additional beds, it’s not seen as a long-term solution.
“It’s like we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” says Dr. Paul Parks, president of the Section of Emergency Medicine for the Alberta Medical Association. “We take from one area of the system just so that we can keep another area of the system going.”
Moreover, not only are material resources being moved throughout the hospital system, but health-care workers as well.
The ICU nursing ratio at MHRH would normally be 1-to-1 – one nurse to one patient. To cover surge beds, nurses from other departments either have to be brought in, or the ratio becomes unbalanced, with one ICU nurse having to take care of two or three patients.
“The same thing happens on the floors. You take those nurses from the floors, now the floors that would (normally) be 1-to-5 – one nurse to five patients – is now 1-to-8,” Parks explained. “It results in sub-optimum care.”
Even outpatients are affected with things like routine testing and scheduled surgeries being cancelled because there are not enough health-care workers left to cover those procedures. Patients with non-COVID, serious illnesses have been forced to wait as a result.
“If we continue to keep getting more patients right now, we will overflow into our entire day-surgery,” Parks warns.
Every day the system is becoming more and more backlogged. It will take time to treat every individual waiting for a procedure and some people don’t have that time.
The toll extends to both patients and health-care workers.
“We are wearing our front-line health-care workers absolutely ragged,” Parks said. “They’ve been doing double shifts, they’ve been coming in on their day off, they’ve been pushed to the point where really heavy nurse loads, just all those components are wearing them out.”
The provincial health-care system has been pushed to the max dealing with not only the high number of COVID cases but also addressing all other areas of health. Right now, moving resources throughout the system is required to meet changing demands. However, new issues are appearing as this situation continues.
KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News