All elective orthopedic surgeries at the Royal Alexandra Hospital (RAH) in Edmonton have been suspended for three days starting Monday, due to a shortage of doctors caring for patients after surgery.
An August 14 internal email from Alberta Health Services (AHS) informed surgeons that the situation at the hospital had become “critical” due to minimal daytime coverage by hospitalists, also known as clinical associates. Doctors provide post-surgery care.
“In addition, there will be limited overnight clinical assistant coverage beginning Wednesday, leaving only one junior resident on site to manage 120 orthopedic inpatients,” wrote Dr. Paulose Paul, Chief Orthopedic Officer. ‘Edmonton.
“It’s a situation that I think you will all agree is NOT safe.”
Paul said in the email that the staffing issue has existed for many months.
In an attempt to fill coverage gaps, he said they interviewed and identified new clinical associates ready to work.
“Despite being alerted to this situation months ago, RAH Acute Care Coverage and Medical Affairs have been unable to fill these shifts.”
Paul warned there could be more surgical disruption throughout August if positions are not filled.
In a statement, an AHS spokesperson said the cancellations affected 53 patients.
The Orthopedic Surgery Center at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in #YEG temporarily closed four operating rooms for 72 hours due to an unexpected lack of medical coverage for post-surgical care.
“AHS continues to experience staffing challenges as the healthcare system recovers from the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said.
“Frontline staff are taking well-deserved vacations as many have postponed vacations after 20 months of pandemic measures. This makes it difficult to fill some shifts.”
Several new staff members have been recruited, the statement said, and will soon be ready to support the surgical program.
“Our nursing staff are tired”
At a press conference on Tuesday, Dr. Curtis Johnston, AHS deputy director for the Edmonton Health Zone, said the suspension of surgeries has already reduced the number of hospitalized patients, so he there will no longer be a single doctor for 120 overnight patients.
Johnston said surgical volumes have returned to normal levels and AHS plans to reschedule surgery for all 53 patients by the end of September.
He told reporters that the cancellations of surgeries weren’t just due to staff vacations. He said there were many factors, pointing out that the pandemic had pushed the province’s health care system and its workers to the limit.
“I think it’s important to tell all Albertans that our health care workers are tired,” he said.
“They worked extremely hard and did their best to serve Albertans and we have limits as humans.
“We need time to recuperate, rest and recuperate and do our best to meet the needs of all Albertans, not just surgical patients.”
The NDP blames the Minister of Health
Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro has previously said he intends to reduce the waiting list for surgeries, including orthopedic surgeries, by moving more surgeries from the public system to private surgical establishments.
The Minister has actively sought proposals to build and operate licensed surgical facilities.
Critics have accused Shandro and the UCP government of cutting funding for surgeries in the public health system to facilitate what they believe is an ideological shift towards private surgical facilities.
They also warned it would create shortages of essential staff, like anesthetists, in the public system.
NDP health critic David Shepherd blamed Shandro for this most recent issue at the Royal Alex.
“It goes back to Tyler Shandro, his war on doctors in the middle of a global pandemic, fighting with them, driving them out of the province, completely wearing them out,” Shepherd said, referring to an ongoing dispute between doctors. and Shandro on Pay.
“And now we see the implications for Albertans on the ground.”
Shandro’s office did not respond to a request for comment.