Several Alberta hospitals have been dealing with staffing shortages in their emergency departments, including two of Edmonton’s busiest EDs.

On Friday, Alberta Health Services confirmed 18 treatment beds at the Royal Alexandra Hospital’s emergency department were temporarily closed “due to short-term staffing coverage issues.”

Twelve of those beds were closed for just four hours, AHS said.

“There was no reduction in care for patients in the emergency department during those four hours and EMS was not diverted to avoid the Royal Alexandra Hospital.”

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Opposition NDP leader Rachel Notley said Monday that bed closures due to staffing pressures aren’t isolated to the Royal Alex.

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“Over the past weeks, we have seen critical staffing shortages in hospitals across Alberta.”

“This has led to bed closures and cancelled surgeries and repeated emergency room closures in the communities of Edson, St. Paul, Boyle, Elk Point, Gallahad, Westlock, Fairview, Rocky Mountain House, Cold Lake, Lac La Biche, High Prairie, Slave Lake, Wainwright, Rimbey and Lacombe.

“Here in Edmonton, at the Royal Alex, one of the busiest emergency departments in western Canada, they had to close 18 beds, nearly half its capacity, because there aren’t enough front-line health-care workers to operate safely.”

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Alberta health-care support staff presented with 4% wage cut

Alberta health-care support staff presented with 4% wage cut

“Over the weekend, we learned that another of Edmonton’s busiest hospitals, the Grey Nuns, will be periodically closing its endoscopy unit over the next few weeks and transporting emergency patients who need that service when the unit is closed, to other hospitals,” Notley said.

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AHS issued two notices on Friday, advising of two other staffing shortages.

There will be no physician overnight (from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily) at the St. Theresa General Hospital emergency department in Fort Vermillion from July 19 to July 31, AHS said. Nursing staff will provide assessments and triage patients in the ED and refer them to the Northwest Health Centre in High Level, if needed. EMS calls will be re-routed to the Northwest Health Centre (81 kilometres away) during this time.

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Also, the Sacred Heart Community Health Centre in McLennan was without an on-site emergency department physician over the weekend, AHS said. EMS calls were re-routed to High Prairie Health Complex (50 km away), Peace River Community Health Centre (80 km away) or Valleyview Healthcare Centre (90 km away), AHS said.

“This is a dangerous situation,” Notley said.

“The closures are happening because people are leaving.”

She slammed the UCP’s plan to cut Alberta nurses’ salaries, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, calling it “disrespectful, demoralizing and damaging.”

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The opposition leader said the premier and health minister need to keep hospitals open and “abandon these plans to cut the wages of the Albertans who work in them.”

Notley said in other regions, bonuses are being used to encourage health-care workers to stay on and keep working. In Alberta, however, they’re looking at long-term salary rollbacks, she said.

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“These folks who work in health care have gone through career-level high marks for stress and anxiety and emergency,” Notley added.

“Having gone through that, it’s shocking that their reward is to be told they’ll earn less afterward.”

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the NDP continues to politicize issues, “lie about our response to the pandemic” and “what’s happening in the province.”

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“That’s their track record,” he said at a news conference Monday.

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Shandro said AHS has done great work dealing with the pressures exacerbated by the pandemic.

“AHS has done an amazing job in being able to make sure resources are deployed, to make sure people are getting the critical care they need, surgeries are happening. … They’ve done an amazing job acting dynamically as the situation changes across the province,” the health minister said.

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While staffing challenges were expected, Alberta has worked hard to recruit health-care workers to the province, Shandro said.

“We have 1,000 more nurses than we had a year ago, so we are recruiting more.”

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“We have net — month over month, quarter over quarter, year over year — more positions, more nurses because we continue to show not just the rest of the country but the rest of the world that Alberta is an amazing place not just to come to work and serve residents in your profession but also a great place to raise your children.”

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