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Growth in Alberta puts pressure on hospitals

CALGARY – Despite recent announcements of significant spending on healthcare infrastructure, Alberta healthcare providers are currently running into trouble providing beds and emergency care for the province’s burgeoning population.

According to an April report in the Calgary Herald, local ER waiting times climbed nearly 30 percent in February 2006, compared to the same month last year.

“We know it will get worse,” Dr. Gil Curry, an emergency department official at the Calgary Health Region, told the Herald. He noted that Calgary’s population continues to grow and age, while significant numbers of new beds aren’t expected for about two years.

The Calgary Health Region had issued 29 code burgundies – alerts to notify hospital staff of bed shortages – in the first three months of 2006, nearly as many as the 33 called for all of 2005.

In one high-profile incident in late March, a bed shortage prevented a young Calgary cancer patient from receiving chemotherapy.

Davis Weisner, a 10-year-old recently diagnosed with neuroblastoma, was turned away from Alberta Children’s Hospital because there was no room for his scheduled treatment.

CHR officials, however, said they were taking steps to alleviate the shortage of oncology beds, boosting staffing levels and preparing to open more beds for young cancer patients at the new Alberta Children’s Hospital this fall.

Meanwhile, physicians and administrators are working to see if patients with less urgent needs can be discharged to free up beds.

Overloads at Emergency Departments have also become an issue.

CHR statistics suggest emergency room waits are also on the rise, with median waiting times for urgent patients at local hospitals jumping from 44 minutes in February 2005 to 57 minutes in February this year.

According to the Herald, some local patients said they faced far longer delays at local hospitals, sitting for multiple hours in the emergency waiting room before seeing a physician.

Scott Macpherson, 42, said he waited nine hours at the emergency room at Calgary’s Peter Lougheed’ Centre, on two occasions in March.

CHR’s Dr. Curry commented that the growing emergency room waiting times are the result of Calgary’s booming population and patients coming to hospital sicker than ever before.

Dr. Curry, who works in a local emergency ward, said CHR is addressing the problem by improving the flow of patients through the hospital system. He said renovations at all three emergency departments and additional beds will help, although those projects aren’t expected to be completed this year.

Officials with CHR expect the number of code burgundy alerts to slow down over the coming months as the flu season wraps up in Calgary.