Wednesday, June 7, 2023
HomeHealth190 Calgary doctors warn emergency rooms 'collapsing' in open letter

190 Calgary doctors warn emergency rooms 'collapsing' in open letter




A group of nearly 200 Calgary ER doctors is warning, in an open letter to Albertans, that emergency departments are “collapsing” and they’re struggling to provide timely and effective care to patients.

“Signs of a capacity crisis are everywhere,” the letter reads.

“The wait time in Calgary’s emergency departments has skyrocketed, with patients sometimes waiting up to 15 hours to be seen by a doctor. These patients often become sicker while waiting. We worry about these patients every shift.”

The 190 doctors involved, who add up to about 75 per cent of those working at Calgary’s four adult hospitals, say they’re speaking out as independent physicians and not on behalf of Alberta Health Services or the Alberta Medical Association.

“It’s so distressing to see patients sick in hallways and in waiting rooms when we want to be providing the care that they need,” one of the signatories, ER physician Dr. Katie Lin, said in an interview with CBC News.

“We want to be able to provide 24/7 quality care for our fellow Calgarians, our fellow Albertans, and increasingly we’re finding ourselves struggling to be able to do so.”

Lin, who works in the emergency rooms at Foothills Medical Centre and Rockyview General Hospital, said that while the stressors are very different than they were at the height of the pandemic, the pressure remains.

According to Lin, patient volumes are still very high and there simply aren’t enough beds or staff. That means she’s often treating patients in hallways and waiting rooms.

“We’ve all been in the shoes of the physician who is there on a night shift when the waiting room is packed, there’s no spaces available, you’re critically short-staffed and you’re trying to run a resuscitation in a hallway,” she said.

“We’ve seen patients deteriorate while they’re still waiting to be seen. And we’ve seen the aftermath that that has on all members of the health-care team.”

Patients dying, doctor warns

According to the letter, it is common to have between 40 and 50 people waiting to be seen by a doctor at any given time.

“Our emergency departments are collapsing and front-line health-care workers have truly had enough. We cannot bear to watch our patients suffer any longer with no end in sight,” the authors warn.

Admitted patients can be stuck in the ER waiting for beds on the wards for days, they say, and sections of emergency departments are routinely closed due to staffing shortages.

“We are doing our best every day to provide safe, timely, compassionate care to Albertans, and that has been slowly eroding so much that lately it has felt like a landslide,” said Dr. Sean Fair, an ER physician at Rockyview and Foothills.

Dr. Sean Fair is wearing a red collared shirt and looking directly at the camera
Dr. Sean Fair, an ER physician working at the Foothills Medical Centre and Rockyview General Hospital, says the situation is a ‘crisis.’ (CBC)

In an interview with CBC News, Fair said he wants Albertans to know this is a “crisis.”

“Truthfully, we are having patients die in the waiting room again. And this is not something that happened in Calgary for many years, by and large.”

Alberta Health Services did not respond directly to questions about waiting room deaths.

CBC News reached out to the health authority with a number of questions regarding the doctors’ concerns but did not receive specific answers to any of them.

“We acknowledge the concerns expressed by some of our physicians,” a spokesperson said in a statement emailed to CBC News.

“AHS has reached out directly and offered to meet.”

The group of physicians argues a lack of hospital beds and shortages of both front-line ER staff and family physicians are playing a key role in the “erosion” of emergency department care.

The letter’s authors say patients who are admitted to the hospital but have no bed to go to take up about one quarter of emergency beds in the Calgary zone, on an average day. On a bad day, they say, that can be as high as 80 per cent, leaving very few spaces to treat incoming patients.

“From the patient’s perspective, languishing in the emergency department for days must be a horrific and inhumane experience,” the letter reads.

Staffing shortages are becoming more acute, the doctors argue, as burned-out emergency room doctors and nurses leave the front lines.

“Our care providers are leaving,” said Fair, noting many of his physician colleagues are reducing their practices and some are quitting altogether.

“They’re leaving for greener pastures. They’re leaving for other provinces. They’re leaving for other work.”

An estimated 650,000 Albertans don’t have a family physician, and, according to Lin, more patients are ending up in the ER as a result.

“We’re routinely seeing patients who no longer have family physician access are struggling with chronic diseases, who then deteriorate and come to the emergency department critically ill,” she said.

The group is calling on AHS and whichever party forms the next government to address the health system problems — and it’s urging Albertans to cast their ballots with health care in mind in the May 29 provincial election.

“We’d really like recognition that this is an ongoing concern and an ongoing crisis, especially within our emergency departments across the province,” said Lin.

“I’m worried that this is not sustainable and I know that my colleagues share that sentiment.”

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