As of Tuesday, 116 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, 16 of whom were being treated in intensive care. That means 23% of Alberta’s dedicated COVID-19 intensive care beds were in use, Dr Deena Hinshaw said.
The province has seen a 3.1% daily increase in hospitalizations over the past two weeks, the chief medical officer of health added. The latest figures show 293 Albertans have died from COVID-19.
Pressure on health workers
But the health system is not limited to space – beds and capacity – it is also carried by human resources – health workers and support staff.
“It is not enough to just consider hospitalization levels when assessing the pandemic’s toll on the health care system,” said Alexander Delorme, spokesperson for the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.
“Having only one staff member needing to self-isolate means their unit is working shorthanded or someone else is taking overtime.
“It adds up quickly and places a heavy burden on staff both physically and mentally.”
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As of Tuesday afternoon, 72 outbreaks had been identified by Alberta Health. Four of these outbreaks have occurred in hospitals: Leduc Community Hospital, Misericordia Community Hospital, University of Alberta Hospital (Mazankowski Heart Institute) and Foothills Medical Center.
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At Leduc hospital, two patients tested positive for COVID-19 and six workers had to self-isolate, Alberta Health Services said Tuesday.
During the outbreak at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute, three patients tested positive for COVID-19 and 12 staff members are self-isolating, AHS said.
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In early October, AHS said 290 staff at Foothills Medical Center, where there were six outbreaks, were in isolation.
“When you take 300 people off such a big wheel, it’s important and it will have an impact,” said AUPE Vice President Bobby-Joe Borodey.
She said burnout was imminent as more shifts need to be filled to cover people in quarantine.
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“The concern is: how can we continue at this rate?”
Staff must isolate themselves
“The more staff have to isolate themselves – as we saw recently at the Foothills – the worse the situation gets,” said Delorme.
“In addition, staffing levels directly affect the number of beds. If there is not enough staff to take care of the beds, these beds cannot be used.
“So it’s not just a question of the number of beds filled with patients,” he explained. “Focusing only on COVID hospitalizations is a mistake. The more cases increase, leading to outbreaks and health workers having to isolate themselves, the more our health system bends under pressure. “
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“We understand the challenges of these outbreaks and the fact that our staff are tired after months of responding to the pandemic,” Kerry Williamson, AHS spokesperson, told Global News on Tuesday.
“We are doing everything we can to support our staff, especially those at sites affected by epidemics.”
He said AHS workers can access support through the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP), which offers a range of support services for work, health and life issues. . This is a free and confidential service available 24/7 for AHS employees.
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“AHS has also developed a progressive mental health and wellness resource strategy to support our people throughout the pandemic and we will continue to build on existing AHS and PAEF resources,” said Williamson.
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“We encourage employees to take care of themselves by helping them be proactive in identifying and resolving mental health issues such as compassion fatigue and burnout.”
He added that there are employee wellness and health programs and resources that address topics such as stress management, sleep and fatigue.
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“We understand that the health and wellness needs of our employees can change over time and our step-by-step approach will ensure that our employees get the right resources at the right time.
“AHS continues to use overtime and reassignments to ensure that shifts are covered so staff have to self-isolate to ensure patients receive the care they need.
“We are calling on Albertans to do their part to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the strain it is placing on our staff and systems.
Using sick days for 14-day isolation
Cameron Westhead, vice president of United Nurses of Alberta, says the problem is that health workers who have to self-isolate for 14 days must use their allotted sick days.
The UNA would like the government, AHS and Covenant Health to reinstate the pandemic pay that was in place when the provincial state of emergency was in effect.
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“We have asked AHS to reinstate a self-isolation benefit in the event of a pandemic,” Westhead said. “They’ve since removed that when the state of emergency was over… so now staff go through their patient bank when they need to self-isolate.
Even though the COVID-19 case they may have been exposed to was a co-worker, they must use their own sick days to self-isolate for 14 days. For casual staff, this means that they are not paid for those two weeks.
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Hospital capacity in relation to staff
The pandemic may not be crushing Alberta’s infrastructure capacity for intensive care beds right now, but some healthcare workers are certainly feeling overwhelmed.
“Of course we have beds available, the capacity of the intensive care unit is not exceeded, but human resources and staff morale,” Westhead said.
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He said it was already difficult before the pandemic, with units understaffed.
“I would even say before COVID hit people were under-staffed and morale was low,” Westhead said. “We saw the way doctors are treated by the government… and we knew we were going to have the same treatment.
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“There is a real feeling that healthcare workers feel disposable. On the one hand, the government calls us heroes, then another day, they announce the dismissal of 11,000 of us.
“We are dealing with a government hostile to its workforce that provides care,” Westhead said.
Along with the stress of layoffs and contracts, there is the stress of working on the front lines of a pandemic.
Morale, stress and risk
“The type of work it takes to care for patients with COVID is much more intense… putting on and taking off PPE. Often you need more than one person to provide care, ”Westhead explained.
And, even when workers wear full protective gear, there is still a risk.
“There is always the question of whether they could be infected. It is very exhausting mentally and emotionally.
“That’s what we signed up for and we’re proud to do … but it has an impact on the staff.”
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It is also difficult for health workers to work overtime, covering their colleagues who have tested positive or who need to self-isolate.
“The rest of the staff often have to work overtime, longer shifts… It’s really morally painful to know that some of your colleagues may have fallen ill while providing care and you may be the one. next… We are like family.
With files from Heide Pearson, Global News
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