RED DEER — The emergency department at the Red Deer Regional Hospital has been under a lot of stress in the summer months, according to staff.
Increased patient intake, staffing shortages, and a rise in COVID-19 cases have left staff morale at an all time low.
At times, this summer, the emergency department has dealt with 20 per cent more patients than expected.
“Definitely, our numbers this summer have started to go up above historically what we’ve seen,” said Dr. John Colebrook, an emergency department physician at the Red Deer Regional Hospital.
Colebrook said that addiction and mental health visits are up, and more patients are coming in who have deferred care—avoiding the hospital, in the past, due to a fear of being exposed to COVID-19.
“We are seeing people that are sicker because they have deferred care because they’ve been scared to seek help during the pandemic, or it’s been very hard for them to access care during the pandemic,” he said.
As of Tuesday, in the central zone, there are 1,385 active cases of COVID-19 with 54 people in hospital and 11 in the ICU. Out of those total cases, 337 are in the city of Red Deer.
Colebrook said the recent rise in cases has put an additional strain on the emergency department.
“When we see an increase in these COVID-19 patients, that’s an additional strain to the department because we still have all of our regular medical presentations coming in,” said Colebrook.
“We still have the same traumas. We still have the same heart attacks. We still have the same people coming in with abdominal pain, and things like that, so these are an additional stress to the system.”
Colebrook said emergency staff are overwhelmed.
“It’s been a struggle,” he said.
“With a fourth wave coming on, people are tired. The staff is really exhausted.”
Approximately 92 per cent of patients currently in the ICU are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, and approximately 80 per cent of patients currently in the hospital are unvaccinated. Colebrook said many of these hospitalizations could have been prevented if people were vaccinated.
“The vaccine is one of our best tools to prevent people from getting sick. It will not stop all infections, but it will greatly reduce your risk of getting seriously ill with COVID-19,” he said.
“We are not seeing a lot of side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine. They are minimal compared to the effects of getting the virus itself.”
Over the summer, the department experienced multiple bed closures due to staffing shortages and is still experiencing them on a day-to-day basis.
“It’s not uncommon to have 10, 20, possibly up to 40 text messages for shifts sent out by our staffing department to fill staffing needs just in our department,” said Carol Stoyberg, the assistant head nurse at Red Deer’s emergency department.
Stoyberg said many nurses are finding it difficult to balance their work life with their personal life.
“You’re tired. You’re physically and emotionally drained, but you know you have to step up and you have to give the care that everybody is deserving of,” she said.
Stoyberg added that the province’s proposal for a nursing wage cut has left staff feeling undervalued.
“It feels like we’re not appreciated,” she said.
“We’re in the fourth wave. They need us. We need our physicians. We need our cleaning staff. We need our LPN’s. We need our unit clerks. So, to be told that we’re going to be rolled back to 20 years ago, it’s not right.”
In a statement, AHS said it has successfully recruited for 10 vacant RN and LPN positions. Six of the new hires have completed their orientation and have been working independently since mid-August.
“Patients needing emergency care perhaps will think otherwise of coming to the emergency department and we don’t want that. We want patients to come, especially if they need the care, do come. We will see you and we will give you excellent care,” said Stoyberg.
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