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Mandatory OT, staff vacation cancellations possible as Stollery sees rush of sick kids


Due to "surging" respiratory viruses, Alberta Health Services implemented new staffing measures at the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton on Tuesday.

The pediatric ICU at the Stollery was at 100 per cent capacity, although health officials said additional beds could be added.

Officials said an initial surge was from influenza but the number of kids sick with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is unusually high and still increasing.

"The Stollery Children’s Hospital is experiencing sustained high volumes of acutely ill patients requiring care in our Emergency Department (ED), Pediatric Intensive Care, and Inpatient Units," an alert from AHS said.

"We are identifying staff with previous ED, critical care, inpatient care experience or appropriate skills for deployment to support clinical need in those areas and to boost additional surge capacity at the Stollery."

The crush of patients needing care could also lead to mandatory overtime for staff, short notice on shift schedule changes and cancellation of vacations.

AHS has recently freed up eight beds for pediatric care that were previously being used for adults.

"I want to make it clear that the volumes [of patients] have not slowed. In fact, we are kinda trying to brace for what's going to happen in January and February when we normally see our viral infections," Medical Director Dr. Carina Majaesic said.

"We are not in a public emergency…What we have at the moment is an emergency provision, which allows us to move staff around in a different way, it allows physicians to have different accountabilities with the college and it allows our insurance policies to extend in different directions where we can go an work on different wards."

AHS recommended people see their family doctors or a walk-in clinic for influenza-like illnesses, unless it's urgent or severe. People can also call 811 to get help.

Dr. Majaesic said bringing in trailers for extra space, like has been done in Calgary, is not being considered. Instead AHS will use hallway space to expand waiting rooms.

AHS officials thanked staff for accommodating the changes and working extra shifts.

"We have people who are very tired from having worked a long time and worked very hard for the last two-and-a-half years, so there is always that possibility that people will be burned out and we have people that say already they feel really burned out," Dr. Majaesic said as she asked parents to be patient and kind when in hospitals.

The president of United Nurses of Alberta called the situation a "crisis" and said the province should be doing more to protect kids and pediatric facilities like the Stollery.

“It is imperative that our government cease treating this situation as if it were a political inconvenience and address it immediately as the public health crisis that it is,” Heather Smith wrote in a press release.

“The simplest and most effective policy change that could be implemented immediately would be an indoor mask mandate to reduce the spread of influenza, COVID-19 and RSV.”

She suggested Premier Danielle Smith and Health Minister Jason Copping issue a statement promoting masks and limiting the size of indoor gatherings during the holidays.

A spokesperson for Copping said Tuesday night that the minister supports AHS requiring masks in health care facilities, but suggested mask rules elsewhere are not likely.

"As our chief medical officer of health has said, wearing a high-quality, well-fitting mask can reduce your risk of being exposed to respiratory viruses, or exposing others. Albertans should be supported in wearing a mask if they choose to do so," press secretary Steve Buick wrote.

"Broader mask mandates are an emergency measure that no province has in place. We’re not in a state of public health emergency and we cannot live in one forever, or whenever we have a wave of flu or other respiratory infections."

Buick said Alberta needs to keep adding to hospital capacity so the system can deal with things like the peak of flu season. Top Stories

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