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Edmonton health-care system at 'tipping point,' doctors warn

Edmonton health-care system at 'tipping point,' doctors warnEdmonton physicians are warning the local health-care system is at a "tipping point" as the city faces record-high COVID-19 case counts and hospitalization rates. In an open letter Wednesday, the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association (EZMSA) says the zone is stretched thin because of hospital backlogs, staff burnout and a combative provincial government. The letter is signed by Dr. Stephen Petryk, president of the medical staff association at the Misericordia Community Hospital, and EZMSA vice-president Dr. Erika MacIntyre. Both doctors work primarily out of the Misericordia Community Hospital, where Petryk is an emergency room physician and MacIntyre is an intensive care and respiratory physician.  Alberta has seen a dramatic spike in COVID cases over the past month and as of Wednesday trails only Manitoba in active cases, once the provincial rates are adjusted for population. The Edmonton zone remains at the centre of that spike, accounting for nearly half of the province's total 4,921 active cases as of Thursday.  As cases surge, so too have hospitalization rates. As of Thursday, there were 70 people with COVID-19 in Edmonton zone hospitals, including eight patients in intensive care. Across the province, the number of people with COVID-19 in hospital on any given day eclipsed 100 patients for the first time earlier this month.  "We feel obligated to inform you about the worrisome strain on our healthcare system — Edmonton is at a tipping point," Petryk and MacIntyre write in the letter, which has been posted to EZMSA's website. "Actions taken now will help ensure we can provide quality care Albertans deserve before there are more unnecessary deaths and illness during this pandemic." Four hospitals in the Edmonton zone have at least one listed outbreak, including the Royal Alexandra and the Misericordia. At the University of Alberta Hospital, three units are under outbreak investigations, with the most recent declared Wednesday after four patients tested positive, AHS confirmed. Petryk said outbreaks have ripple effects across a hospital and especially in the emergency room. With beds limited, he estimated that more than half of the ER spaces at the Misericordia are taken by patients who are admitted under the care of a specialist, but can't yet be transferred to a unit. "That impacts our ability to see new patients who are in our waiting room with strokes, heart attacks, kidney stones, you name it," Petryk said in an interview Wednesday.   "And if you can't get to a patient in a timely fashion, ultimately it's the patient who is going to suffer." Hospitals running over capacity, surgeries postponed Hospitals are regularly running at 120 per cent capacity as a result of increased isolation demands, AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said in a statement.  Rooms that could otherwise fit three or four patients have been limited to one or two beds because of COVID-19 protocols, Williamson says. Patients ready to be transferred from hospital to continuing care are also staying put as outbreaks plague those facilities, adding to hospital backlogs.  Those pressures prompted AHS to postpone up to 30 per cent of scheduled non-emergency surgeries as part of surge capacity measures announced Oct. 23. "Postponing surgeries is a necessary step to ensure the health-care system can sustain its pandemic response, and be able to respond to emergencies," Williamson said. "The decision was made to ensure AHS has the staff, equipment, and beds available for the increased demand caused by COVID-19."  Petryk and MacIntrye wrote in the open letter that the health-care system is "nearing a crisis due to hundreds of nurse shortages." Facilities are struggling to keep up with unfilled shifts due to virus exposures, childcare, lack of overtime and budget cuts, the letter writers said. Workforce burnout is an increasing issue, said MacIntyre. "It's just one negative action after another," she said. "I think all of us are just feeling disillusioned."  'This is a call for help' Heather Smith, president of United Nurses Alberta, echoed the letter's assessment of the local health-care system.  She said nurses are being mandated to work overtime as units go understaffed. "This is a call for help and a call to have recognition of what's happening because we don't want it to crash," Smith said. Williamson said AHS addresses staffing requirements on a daily basis and uses a number of strategies, "which may include mandatory overtime when necessary,"  We feel obligated to inform you about the worrisome strain on our health-care system. - Dr. Stephen Petryk and Dr. Erika MacIntyre in an open letter The letter writers also take aim at the government's recent plans to lay off 11,000 AHS staff and outsource services to the private sector in the coming years. That move came after the government in February cancelled contracts with the Alberta Medical Association to unilaterally impose changes to billing and compensation. Some doctors say those changes made their business unviable and threatened to cancel their privileges at rural hospitals. Others say they will consider leaving the province, citing an acrimonious relationship with the government.  "Government cuts are contributing to a system that is overwhelmed and at a boiling point. We need to be working together to ensure Albertans have timely access to healthcare," the open letter said. Health Minister Tyler Shandro did not respond to the letter directly when asked by CBC News for comment. His press secretary, Steve Buick, claimed the letter was "obviously intended" to support a campaign launched Wednesday by the Alberta Federation of Labour. Buick directed CBC News to the minister's response to the AFL. Petryk said the AFL had no part in co-ordinating the letter, which concludes with a plea to the public to follow health guidelines, from physical distancing to gathering limits.  "We, physicians, are here for you," the letter reads. "Please help us get through this pandemic."

Halloween drive-thru a screaming success, organizers say

Halloween drive-thru a screaming success, organizers sayPeople came from as far away as Souris to wait in line as long as an hour Wednesday night to drive through the Eliot River Scream Park, an annual fundraising event in Cornwall, P.E.I.The event is usually set up for people to walk along a trail, but was changed to a drive-thru this year due to COVID-19 — and the lineup for admission was long. "We were surprised by the number," said Darren Ford, a teacher at Eliot River Elementary. "We did expect a large crowd, it being a venue going on or an event during these COVID times — but I think what we expected and what we got was well beyond our expectations." Despite the lineup and wait, people coming through to see the Halloween-themed sights seemed happy and had positive comments, Ford said. "Overall I can honestly say it was probably a smash hit or a home run, as they say in the major leagues, for us and hopefully for the people that attended." The 17th annual event raised $2,800 for the school's breakfast program and for phys ed equipment, which Ford said is comparable to previous years. He estimates as many as 1,000 cars drove through the Scream Park.More from CBC P.E.I.

Auto insurance panel recommends Alberta adopt a private, no-fault system

Auto insurance panel recommends Alberta adopt a private, no-fault systemA new provincial bureaucracy, not the courts, should deal with car crash injury cases, a government-appointed auto insurance panel recommends. Saying there's no evidence the courtroom battles help injured patients recover faster, the three-member automobile insurance advisory committee recommends that Alberta ditch its tort system of insurance and adopt a private, no-fault insurance model. Such major change would require the government to create a new, independent traffic injury regulator to handle claims and assess what benefits injured people should receive. It would be funded by industry and government. "The committee concluded that due to poor health outcomes and continuous price instability resulting from the current Alberta model, it must be fundamentally reformed to properly serve the interests of traffic injured and insured motorists alike," said committee chair Chris Daniels. It's an approach some critics say is too formulaic to serve crash victims well. The panel also recommends the government legislate the use of winter tires during  Alberta's colder months. In its 536-page report, released Thursday, the panel said the average consumer with full insurance coverage would see a 9.4 per cent reduction in premiums if Alberta adopts the suggested model. Panel members also say rates would be expected to hold steady for three years, then rise no more than the inflation rate in the following years. Short-term measures to address insurance costs But Alberta's finance minister is reticent to take big steps immediately. Minister Travis Toews announced legislation Thursday to move on some, but not all of the panel's 37 recommendations. In part, the interim steps are supposed to help stabilize rising auto insurance rates in the province, he said. "Firstly to consumers, but also to all those in the industry, whether it's health-care professionals, the Alberta legal experts and certainly insurance stakeholders, we owe it to all Albertans to provide feedback on this report," Toews told reporters. The minister tabled Bill 41, the Insurance (Enhancing Driver Affordability and Care) Amendment Act, on Thursday. The bill proposes changes Toews said should save the average driver about $120 per year, per vehicle. However, the changes could limit the financial help available for people who sustain "minor injuries" in a collision. Should the legislation pass, treatment for any longer-term complications resulting from sprains, strains or whiplash would be subject to a $5,300 coverage cap for pain and suffering damages. The bill would also allow dentists to become certified examiners who assess crash injuries, in addition to doctors. Injured people would also have access to $1,000-worth of treatment by dentists, psychologists and occupational therapists. Insurance companies could offer drivers more coverage options, such as pay-per-kilometre plans, should the bill pass. Not-at-fault drivers could deal directly with their own insurance company to get damages paid for. The bill would also limit the number of experts who could testify in court during injury claims lawsuits. As for bigger changes to insurance regulation, Toews said the government must first do widespread consultation. He expects that process to start later this fall and stretch into early 2021. Government will consider further steps by mid-2021, he said, but there's no pre-determined outcome. "The committee make a compelling recommendation, in the recommendation in moving to privately delivered no-fault [insurance]," he said. Government caving in to insurance lobbyists: Opposition The Opposition NDP has been calling on the government to freeze insurance premiums until next year. They say insurance companies are turning profits, particularly during the pandemic. NDP Service Alberta critic Jon Carson also said insurance premiums have escalated since the UCP government axed an NDP five-per-cent rate hike cap. In the legislature on Thursday, Carson accused the finance minister of being bad at math and serving as a "mouthpiece" for backroom lobbyists. According to the provincial lobbyists registry, there are currently 33 companies or associations registered to lobby the government about insurance. "Do you get the harm that you caused my constituents and so many others who need to keep their cars on the road?" Carson asked Toews. Toews said insurance rates are jumping in Alberta because the former NDP government didn't deal with the root of the problem — something he said his government will have the courage to do. He said the Opposition wants publicly run insurance like B.C. or Saskatchewan. B.C.'s public insurer has been bleeding money in the last few years. "The member's recommendations belong in a dumpster fire," said Toews.

Thursday 29th of October 2020 11:28:36


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