Thu. Jun 30th, 2022

People in central Alberta needing specific surgeries at Red Deer Regional Hospital are being diverted to other facilities.

According to Alberta Health Services, these measures are being taken due to a number of factors, including “a shortage of clinical assistants who support the general surgery program.”

It’s a situation some doctors say is unacceptable.

“It’s disappointing, it’s disheartening,” Dr. Keith Wolstenholme, an orthopedic surgeon at Red Deer Regional Hospital, said.

“It’s unfortunate, and for a lack of a better term, it sucks,” added Dr. Glen Vajcner, a general surgeon with the hospital.

In a statement to Global News, AHS confirmed the “temporary” diversions.

“Beginning Friday afternoon, some surgical patients will be diverted from Red Deer Regional Hospital Center (RDRHC) to other sites to ensure they get the care they need,” the statement read.

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“This is a temporary measure and AHS is working hard to resume normal surgical services at the site.”

AHS added that, depending on a person’s condition, patients will be “diverted to other surgical sites in the central zone, including Camrose, Rocky Mountain House and Drumheller, or to facilities in Edmonton and Calgary.”

That’s something Dr. Vajcner isn’t happy with.

“It’s not something our general surgeons wanted to do,” he said. “It was something due to a set of circumstances that arose that we had to do for patient safety.”

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AHS added that patients with scheduled procedures, emergency cases that cannot be safely transferred and on-call coverage for existing inpatients, will continue to be provided at RDRHC.

“We acknowledge that this will cause some stress and anxiety to some of our surgical patients, however, we have exhausted all efforts to avoid this temporary diversion,” the statement read.

At this time, the diversion is specific only to the general surgery program. AHS said that includes procedures such as appendicitis, bowel resections, laparotomies and gallbladder removals.

NDP health critic David Shepherd said this news is devastating.

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“Albertans in need of care are being forced to take to the highways, tying up our EMS and potentially putting them at greater risk,” Shepherd said.

Front-line workers said they share similar concerns.

“It will absolutely impact care significantly,” Dr. Wolstenholme said. “Red Deer Regional Hospital serves almost 500,000 central Albertans.”

“It’s like sitting with a hammer and not having any nails to hammer.” Dr. Vajcner added.

“General surgeons like to be busy, we like to be working, we like to help people.”

In a statement to Global News, press secretary for the Minister of Health Steve Buick said the province is “working with AHS to fill the gaps in staffing and get surgery at the site back to normal as soon as possible.”

“Health systems across Canada are under strain from two years of the pandemic,” Buick said.

“At the same time, we’re seeing high numbers of patients in line with peak winter volumes. We’re supporting AHS in hiring more front-line staff, including 1,800 more nurses in the past two years, and another 2,000 to 3,000 more staff in total this year with the $ 600 million health budget increase in Budget 2022.

“We’ve also committed to a $ 1.8 billion redevelopment of the Red Deer hospital.”

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But Dr. Wolstenholme said more needs to be done to make Alberta an attractive place for medical professionals to want to come and work.

“This could have been avoidable with good long-term human resource planning, but we really have not had that,” he said.

AHS has not said when general surgery service will resume in Red Deer but added it is working hard to restore normal surgical services.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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