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Edmonton Zone health staff sound alarm over capacity for babies in intensive care

NIC View lets parents see their babies in the Neonatal intensive Care Unit 24/7 on video. (Dave Mitchell/CTV News Edmonton) NIC View lets parents see their babies in the Neonatal intensive Care Unit 24/7 on video. (Dave Mitchell/CTV News Edmonton)
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Staff caring for frail babies at hospitals in the Edmonton area are asking for help from the province.

In a letter dated Tuesday to Health Minister Adrianna LaGrange and Alberta Health Services president and chief executive officer Athana Mentzelopoulos, members of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association say neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) "are in crisis" across the province, with Edmonton NICUs are running between 95-to-102-per-cent capacity.

They say a "safe" capacity for NICUs is 80-to-85 per cent.

"Practically, this puts babies at risk," writes Dr. Mona Gill, EZMSA president, and Dr. Amber Reichert, a neonatologist and zone member, in the letter.

"The nurses are caring for too many babies at one time and this results in frail, underweight infants not being able to even eat on time."

They say capacity issues stretch back years, writing that studies suggested in 2016 that 20-30 more beds were needed in the neonatal section but that there have been no bed increases since then.

Gill and Reichert also write that briefing notes Alberta Health was given briefing notes in 2022 and again last year "sounding the alarm" for beds and staffing support but were "largely ignored," among other concerns.

"These babies have nowhere else to be cared for and we believe the situation has become so critical that deaths of infants may soon follow," they say in the letter, adding that closing beds "if enough supports are not made available" would result in babies being transferred to another hospital or out of province.

"Without sufficient healthcare teams, NICU beds cannot be utilized and service disruption is highly likely."

LaGrange told media at the legislature on Tuesday she found the letter "very upsetting" and that she's "willing to to do whatever it takes to make sure that our babies are well looked after," including transporting them to other provinces if needed.

"I've got my department, and Alberta Health Services, providing me a full briefing and looking to see what our options are and how we can rectify it as quickly as possible," LaGrange said, not acknowledging that the issue of NICU capacity had been raised before, only that she had received the letter two hours before.

LaGrange said she knows "capacity is needed right across the whole province," adding the government is looking at expanding NICU space at Calgary's Foothills Medical Centre.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Chelan Skulski

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