Stollery Children’s Hospital redeploys staff as it struggles with surge of patients

Edmonton’s Stollery Children’s Hospital is experiencing a large and sustained surge of seriously ill patients, Alberta Health Services said Tuesday. 

Dr. Carina Majaesic, medical director at the Stollery, said the hospital has declared an emergency provision that allows it to move staff around to redeploy to the areas of greatest need.

Majaesic didn’t say how many physicians are being redeployed.

The hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit is currently at 100 per cent capacity and is bracing for a further increase. 

While the hospital prepares for viral waves each winter, Majaesic said this year’s surge has been much larger than had been anticipated.

“We normally prepare for a viral season with surge, but this surge is much bigger than normally,” she said. 

“It started out with bigger numbers, and now the numbers are sort of coming down a little bit in terms of the emergency room presentations, but the patients are sicker than they would have been in previous years.” 

The patients are also older than would normally be expected, she said. 

Majaesic said at first, influenza was driving the viral wave. 

“The influenza has kind of peaked and is steady. It’s no longer increasing, but RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] is the one that is increasing at this point in time.”

The hospital is working to identify nursing staff with previous emergency department, critical care and inpatient care experience to increase staffing capacity, AHS said in a news release. 

“Identified staff will be deployed to the area of greatest need and where their skill set can be best utilized,” AHS said in the release.

Hospital staff, including medical professionals, may be asked to work extra shifts or ordered to work overtime. 

While there is a possibility of cancelling vacations, the hospital will do its best to honour arranged vacation, Majaesic said.

“We have not cancelled vacations for anybody at this point in time and we would try to honour already approved vacations.”

Pediatric doctors and staff have been less directly affected by the pandemic than their counterparts, but many pediatric physicians stepped in to help in the adult units, Majaesic said.

“They worked very hard over the last 2½ years. And now we’re having an onslaught of patients in pediatrics.

“There is always that risk that people will burnout and some people actually would say that already, that they feel really burned out.” 

To create further capacity, the intensive-care unit that had been serving adult patients on a temporary basis was brought back into pediatrics. If necessary, the Stollery can double the number of patients per room.

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