Mon. Aug 8th, 2022

‘We are really worried that people are sitting at home and they are not coming in when they are going in’

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Waiting times in emergency rooms in Calgary have fallen since Alberta re-entered a state of public health last month, despite increasing pressure on the province’s health system.

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The head of emergency medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine said that although no detailed investigation has been completed, the shortened waiting times are likely a result of Calgarians staying away from emergency departments amid fears during a fourth wave of COVID-19 that has pushed hospitals to their boundaries.

“We think it’s a rendition of what happened at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Dr. Eddy Lang.

“There is so much media coverage of what is going on. People watch the overwhelmed ICU on TV and many people cannot distinguish it from an overwhelmed emergency department.

“We have tried to send messages that it is safe here that you do not have to worry. But people no doubt think twice about getting in because they are afraid to enter into contracts (COVID-19). ”

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When Lang spoke to Postmedia on Thursday afternoon, there was only a 30-minute wait in the emergency rooms at both Rockyview and Peter Lougheed hospitals. These waiting times are typically measured in hours, not minutes.

There is a real concern that callers are not seeking treatment for significant illness, the emergency doctor said. The situation reflects a decline seen during the first wave of the pandemic when Alberta Health Services recorded a 41 percent drop in emergency visits.

During the first wave, Lang said he knows of patients who, among other things, did not seek treatment for strokes and complications from surgeries.

“If people were on the fence and were not sure if they should get into an emergency for their problem, this situation could possibly have pushed them to their family doctor or to another option,” Lang said. “But with our current staffing, if you come, you will not wait long.”

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AHS was unable to provide up-to-date statistics on emergency visits.

The situation in emergency rooms is a stark contrast from Alberta’s intensive care units, which have significantly expanded their capacity to deal with an influx of mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients during the fourth wave.

As of Saturday afternoon, there were 300 patients at ICUs across the province, of which “the vast majority” had COVID-19, AHS said. Alberta has 374 ICU beds, of which 201 were added as surge capacity during the fourth wave.

ICU capacity is currently at 80 percent in the province and at 78 percent in the Calgary zone. However, the province operates at 173 percent of its typical ICU capacity.

Lang said he suspects visits to the emergency room will remain down until Alberta’s COVID-19 situation stabilizes. But he urged Calgarians in need of care to seek it out.

“It’s not like you wait in the waiting room for two or three hours until a bed opens. We have lots of empty beds, ”he said. “We’re really worried that people are sitting at home and they don’t come in when they go in.”

jherring@postmedia.com

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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