Skip to main content

Doctors describe patients 'suffering' at Edmonton hospitals due to extraordinarily long wait times

The rumours are true: Doctors at hospitals in Edmonton and other Alberta communities have been unable to admit patients from emergency rooms in a timely manner because some wards are well over capacity.

Dr. Paul Parks, the president of the Alberta Medical Association — the body that advocates on behalf of the province's physicians — says recent feedback from doctors in the capital city indicate some departments are filled well over capacity with patients, in some cases more than 50 per cent over capacity.

It's creating a backlog that not only means much longer waiting times for patients but also potentially unsafe situations, Parks told CTV News Edmonton.

"In Edmonton, specifically, I'm absolutely hearing from my colleagues that, as an example, the internal medicine service is at over 150 per cent capacity," said Parks, adding he's also heard of backlogs at hospitals in Calgary, Red Deer and Grande Prairie.

"They're just at a point where they are saying it is completely unsafe to keep adding more and more, and they're at levels where they just can't do it safely, so they're capping their services, which then means new patients stay in the (emergency room) for a long, long time that need to be admitted, and then new patients that are coming into the (ER) that haven't been assessed have to wait hours and hours and hours because there's no space for them to get in."

In a statement to CTV News Edmonton, Alberta Health Services spokesman Kerry Williamson said acute-care facilities "are experiencing some pressures" but that no AHS site is capping admissions from its emergency department.

Dr. Warren Thirsk said staff at Edmonton's Royal Alexandra Hospital, where he works as an emergency physician, have had to take drastic measures to ensure patients receive services — sometimes treating them in the waiting room — but that wait times are having an adverse effect.

"Patients are suffering. There's no other way to say it," Thirsk told CTV News Edmonton. "If you are brought in by an ambulance and you are offloaded from the ambulance into the ambulance stretcher hallway waiting zone, you can stay on that stretcher for 8, 10 hours. I've worked whole shifts and seen the same patient on the same stretcher as I'm walking by to look after other patients in our department, looking at me with eyes that are sad, pained, tragic, and that eats away at your soul to see that every day, day in and day out."

Thirsk described his own experience with the impact of increased wait times, including treating a patient suffering a stroke in the waiting room.

"That's not what's supposed to happen," he said. "It is an example of how under-capacity we are in terms of being able to look after the needs of our patients. That's what we're all here to do as healthcare workers. If we don't have the resources to look after our patients, we suffer alongside them and feel helpless. It's not what we were trained to do. We were trained to help, not just watch."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson Top Stories

Stay Connected