Alberta plans COVID-19 field hospitals for 750 patients, internal document says

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An internal Alberta government document shows the province has been planning for more than a week to set up indoor field hospitals to treat 750 patients with COVID-19.

The Alberta Health Services (AHS) document, dated November 28 and obtained by CBC News, details a draft implementation plan for two or more facilities, with 375 beds each in Calgary and Edmonton for patients with mild to moderate symptoms. Patients requiring intensive care would remain in city hospitals.

The document shows that health officials met to discuss the plan on November 23.

They then visited major sports facilities at the University of Alberta in Edmonton and the University of Calgary on November 24 – on the same day Premier Jason Kenney rejected calls for a provincial lockdown and instead imposed what he called the “minimum restrictions” necessary to safeguard the health system.

These restrictions included banning all indoor gatherings and stopping in-person classes for students in grades 7 to 12.

The draft field hospital plan underscores the severity of the public health crisis facing Alberta – and provides a sobering sign of the direction authorities believe the trajectory of viral infections could take.

“I think what this is telling us is that as of November 23, the provincial government knew what I think a lot of us knew: that we were heading for potential disaster,” said Dr. Noel Gibney. , Edmonton intensive care veteran. doctor who publicly criticized the government’s response to the pandemic.

“It’s kind of like someone is heading for a cliff and instead of applying the brakes they would go by and call 9-1-1 as they walked down. ”

Alberta continues to set new daily records for COVID-19 infection and leads the country in the number of active cases per capita. He also sometimes led the country in the total number of active cases. As of Tuesday, there were 16,628 active cases in Alberta, compared to 14,524 in Ontario – a province with more than three times as many people.

The province reported 1,685 new cases on Wednesday. Alberta has reported more than 1,000 cases every day for almost two weeks.

Prime Minister calls federal demand “a sign of responsible planning”

Also on Wednesday, CBC News reported that a federal source said Alberta has unofficially asked the Trudeau government and the Red Cross to provide field hospitals to help offset the COVID-19 strain on the healthcare system. of the province.

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro was scheduled to meet with federal counterpart Patty Hadju on Wednesday to discuss the request for a field hospital and other potential supports in the event of a pandemic.

The federal source said Alberta would likely receive at least four field hospitals – two from the Red Cross and two from the federal government.

They said there was no demand for personnel to staff hospitals and no demand for military support.

Alberta’s internal health document deals with patient accommodation in large indoor recreation centers whose wide-opening floor plans have been found to be ideal for staffing.

The biggest challenge in getting hospitals up and running by December or late January would be staffing, and document references could call on the military to help.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Kenney dismissed a suggestion that requests for support from the federal government in her province indicate that she has failed to effectively manage the pandemic.

“No, I think that’s a sign of responsible planning on our part for [a] extreme potential scenario, ”Kenney said.

“The reality is that we have and can continue to build capacity, as we expect the number of hospitalizations to increase, given the new cases in recent weeks,” he said.

WATCH | Alberta asked for Ottawa and Red Cross field hospitals:

The Government of Alberta is in talks with Ottawa and the Canadian Red Cross for help in setting up field hospitals, as the number of patients with COVID-19 continues to rise. 2:42

But the premier said the current number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alberta shows “we are nowhere to the point of having to call on this kind of overflow capacity.”

There were 504 people in hospital and 97 in ICUs in Alberta on Wednesday. A total of 561 people in the province have died from the disease since the start of the pandemic.

The document lists three possible locations

The Alberta health document shows officials narrowed the possible sites of field hospitals to three potential locations:

  • The Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary (Calgary) – potential capacity of 375 patients;
  • University of Alberta Butterdome (Edmonton) – potential capacity of 288 patients;
  • Saville Community Sports Center (Edmonton) – potential capacity of 375 patients.

“These sites were chosen because they have the greatest potential patient capacity, which allows maximum use of staff in one location,” the draft plan says.

Three options are described to secure the necessary infrastructure for hospitals, namely:

  • Order a Canadian Red Cross “Health Emergency Response Unit”, a modular structure that can be set up in various configurations indoors. Under that option, 150 beds are available for deployment in as little as three days, the document says. The cost is over $ 5.1 million for 100 beds, with some associated additional costs;
  • Order a “mHealth unit” from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). Like the Red Cross option, it is a modular structure that can be erected inside in various ways. The document says there are 200 beds available for deployment in about three weeks. The cost: $ 7.5 million to $ 15 million for 100 beds, probably on the lower end of that estimate;
  • Ask AHS to purchase the beds and other equipment and infrastructure. The timing of purchases would depend on availability and the cost of the initial purchases would be approximately $ 1.4 million per 100 beds.

In a series of social media posts Wednesday evening, AHS said it had no plans to open these additional beds, “but it is essential that we have the required agreements with our external partners if we do. we need. ”

“Throughout our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, AHS has proactively planned all scenarios and made sure we have access to all available resources, both inside and out. outside the organization, ”the messages said.

Province considering requesting military support

The document recommends a “phased approach” that would create 350 beds – 150 in Edmonton, 200 in Calgary – by the end of January at the latest.

An additional 400 beds (225 in Edmonton, 175 in Calgary) would then be deployed as needed between January and March of next year.

The November 28 draft plan indicates that the provincial government is considering asking for military support to help staff field hospitals.

“Staffing is expected to be the area of ​​greatest need in terms of commissioning these alternative care centers,” he says.

“Neither of the two ready-to-deploy field hospital models includes ongoing clinical / operational staffing – AHS is expected to provide this.

“Further exploration of staffing options (including military) is underway. ”

Field hospitals are said to have centers with 48 to 52 beds, the document said. Approximately 55 employees would be needed for each hub on each shift.

Facilities would only admit patients with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 who cannot be managed at home or who have risk factors requiring observation when in-patient acute care beds are not available.

Patients recovering from acute care hospitalization would also be admitted and still need limited support.

Logistics challenges

The document also describes the logistical challenges. For example, none of the three proposed sites have adequate toilet, shower and hand washing facilities for the expected volume of patients.

There is also the challenge of circulating oxygen in facilities that were not created for this purpose.

“The supply of oxygen is an area of ​​major concern both from a feasibility and from a safety point of view with regard to the operation of an extensive oxygen infrastructure in a temporary facility” , he says.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has dismissed a suggestion that requests for support from his province’s federal government indicate it has failed to effectively manage the pandemic. (The Canadian Press / Todd Korol)

The document lists four “next steps” for public servants in Alberta.

The first is to deploy the modular structure of the Red Cross at the Saville Center in Edmonton where it would create 150 beds. The second is to deploy the PHAC structure to the Calgary Olympic Oval, which would initially create 200 beds.

These tent structures would be ideal for the environment of the two facilities, as there are temperature control issues at these sites, the document said.

AHS would then proceed with a locally built option in the Butterdome. That would provide up to 225 beds as needed, the document says.

Finally, the province could request an additional deployment of the federal public health agency for up to 175 additional beds in Calgary.

Gibney said the planning for the field hospital was due diligence planning, but he said the government had clearly failed to communicate to the public the degree of risk it now faces while pursuing policies that minimize the risk.

“On the one hand, we have provincial planning at the disaster level or for an upcoming disaster,” he said.

“And on the other hand, we are told that everything is fine. ”

If you have any information on this story, or information for another story, please contact us with confidence at [email protected]

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