Alberta Children's Hospital stops 75% of surgeries after province's COVID-19 cases surge

·3 min read
Drone shots from Alberta Children's Hospital in December 2020. Alberta Children’s Hospital has reduced surgeries by 75 per cent to contend with the surge of COVID-19 patients in ICU.  (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)
Drone shots from Alberta Children's Hospital in December 2020. Alberta Children’s Hospital has reduced surgeries by 75 per cent to contend with the surge of COVID-19 patients in ICU. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)

Alberta Children's Hospital has reduced surgeries by 75 per cent to manage the strain of sick COVID-19 patients — something a Calgary father says is "terrifying."

Jeff Germaine's 10-year-old son Loic is going through treatment for acute myeloid leukemia, as staff from the Alberta Children's Hospital are being redeployed across the city, and surgeries are being scaled back.

Loic's immune system is impacted by the cancer treatment, Germaine says, which has led to ICU stays for days at a time. Loic also requires procedures like bone marrow biopsies and central line installations.

"It's pretty terrifying for us to think that, right now, he has no immune system and we expect to be like that for another 10 days, at least," Germaine says.

"Is there going to be room in the ICUs for him?"

Alberta Health Services says the only surgeries happening in the province are those that must be done within a three-day window.

In addition to worry about about treatment for his son, Germaine says he can tell that healthcare workers are burnt out and have low morale.

He says he's frustrated with Calgarians who haven't gotten vaccinated.

CBC Calgary
CBC Calgary

"This is about people who desperately need health care access, and you are as a group stealing that from them. Please take whatever small risk you think it is to get vaccinated and do it. Do it for someone else, please."

As of Friday, approximately 40 staff from the children's hospital have been redeployed to support care at other facilities in Calgary. No ventilators have been moved, AHS says.

'Children have been affected by this'

Pediatric doctors are being trained in critical care triage protocol, a 52-page document developed by Alberta Health Services that describes how the health-care system will cope if intensive care units (ICUs) no longer have the resources to care for every critically ill patient.

And the idea that doctors could at some point have to choose which child gets the care they need is heartbreaking, says Mary Brindle, pediatric surgeon at Alberta Children's Hospital.

"It's awful to think that you might be asked to make a decision where one child is going to suffer because those resources just aren't available to them," she says.

Delayed surgeries could allow diseases to progress and prolong pain, she says.

"Children have absolutely been affected by this, not only have children actually got COVID and got pretty sick from it, but the other resources that look after children for other reasons are now no longer available to them," she says.

There are more than 250 patients in ICU, the vast majority of whom are COVID-positive.

According to Brindle, these are all patients who need ventilators and a lot of support, which comes from other places.

"The degree of stress and strain on the health care system right now is just astronomical. It is taking resources that people might think would always be available to them, and it is using them to care for COVID patients," she says.

AHS says the province uses a diagnosis-based coding system and clinical knowledge to determine which surgeries need to be prioritized. Those that are the most acute and require urgent surgery will receive it.

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