B.C. says it can't take patients from Alberta's overwhelmed ICUs

·3 min read
Dr. Ayesha Khory in the moments before intubating a patient with COVID-19 in an intensive care unit in Calgary, Alta.  (Leah Hennel/AHS - image credit)
Dr. Ayesha Khory in the moments before intubating a patient with COVID-19 in an intensive care unit in Calgary, Alta. (Leah Hennel/AHS - image credit)

B.C. says it won't be able to take any of Alberta's extra intensive care unit patients at a time when that province's hospitals are buckling under the weight of patients who are critically ill with COVID-19.

In a statement, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the ministry met with its Alberta counterparts Thursday. A day earlier, Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services (AHS) said she would ask other provinces if they would take ICU patients who need care, or spare staff that can work in intensive care units.

But Dix said B.C. can't take on Alberta patients now.

"Given the current demands on B.C.'s health-care system, we will not be able to assist with taking patients at this time," he said.

"However, we have told Alberta that if there are things we can do to support them, we will. And if we can take patients on in the future, we will.

"We are in a global pandemic, and our thoughts are with Albertans as they respond to COVID-19 in their province."

Yui said Thursday some Alberta patients may be transferred to Ontario.

Alberta is in the midst of a punishing fourth wave with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country. As of Thursday afternoon, the province had 18,706 active cases.

As well, there were 896 patients in hospital across the province with COVID-19, including 222 in intensive care.

Dr. Ilan Schwartz, a physician and assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alberta, told CBC News that "Alberta hospitals really are on the brink of collapse."

In comparison, as of Thursday, B.C. has 291 people in hospital with the disease, 134 of whom are in intensive care.

The effects of Alberta's COVID-19 crisis are being felt in B.C.

Many British Columbians in border towns rely on the Alberta health-care system, said Mike Bernier, MLA for Peace River South.

He noted that for his own hometown, Dawson Creek, the closest major hospital is in Grande Prairie, in northwestern Alberta.

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"A lot of these border communities rely on Alberta as the closest centre for triaging, acute care or emergency situations. It's faster and easier to go to Alberta," Bernier said.

He said B.C. is in a tough position when it comes to helping its eastern neighbour.

"As Canadians, we want to help each other, so if there is opportunity in communities to help our neighbouring province, we will all want to do that. But we also have to get our numbers down in British Columbia if we want to be able to help other provinces."

A warning to B.C.

Caroline Colijn, a COVID-19 modeller and mathematics professor at Simon Fraser University, said while Alberta is in a tough situation, B.C. isn't too far behind.

"We're on that knife edge where if we [were to take on patients] in an area that then saw an increase in COVID transmission, that would place a burden on that region's ICU and capacity for providing care," Colijn said. "[Our ICUs] are not relaxed or well under-capacity here from what I understand."

Dr. Don Wilson, who has worked in Alberta and currently works in B.C., said he's worried about people in Alberta and his fellow health-care professionals.

"I'm very concerned for my colleagues as well as the population of Alberta for the way COVID has been handled and the crisis that they're facing at the moment," Wilson said.

Wilson said that Alberta's late adoption of public health measures, like its proof-of-vaccination program and masking measures serve as a reminder for British Columbia to stay vigilant.

"That's the warning for British Columbia. To be proactive and not as reactive for Alberta."

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