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Provincial health-care system in danger of collapse: Alberta doctors

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With hospitals operating well over capacity and the number of influenza and intensive-care ward admissions on the rise, the head of the province's advocate and voice for doctors says without immediate investments to the struggling health-care system, there will be nothing left for the government to salvage after its planned overhaul of it.

Alberta Medical Association President Dr. Paul Parks said Monday that health care in the province needs "solutions right now" and that his organization has been actively advocating with government for upfront investments "to stabilize what we have right now so that we can keep the system flow so that we can then discuss restructuring and discuss how we improve it for the long run."

"To be blunt, if we don't stabilize and salvage it right now, there'll be nothing to restructure — that's how difficult things are right now," Parks told CTV News Edmonton.

"If we continue to lose really good health-care workers and resources because the challenges they're facing are inordinate ... (and if the system) continues to degrade, then we'll be discussing restructuring a system that's completely non-functional. We need immediate stabilization. We need the solutions right now to stabilize so that we have something to rebuild and restructure."

The province announced last month plans for sweeping changes to its health-care delivery system by dismantling Alberta Health Services and reducing it to one of four new service delivery organizations.

According to the latest Alberta Health Services data, intensive-care units in provincial hospitals are at 95 per cent capacity with 219 patients, while the number of new admissions for influenza stood at 179, 25 of them to ICU.

Parks said hospitals are running at 150 per cent capacity and that people seeking treatment at them should expect substandard care.

He described patients admitted to an operating room from waiting rooms — "that's what we are doing these days. Your loved one may spend days up in a hallway on a ward" — and that colleagues have told him they are now delaying or postponing pediatric chemotherapy treatments.

"The waits will be really long," he said. "You may get all your care in a hallway or perhaps an ambulance bay."

Premier Danielle Smith said during her radio call-in show on Saturday that improvements are coming for the struggling system.

"I would just ask that you give us just a little bit of time and we will report back to you in six months or shorter that we are making major progress," she told a caller who asked about long wait times in emergency rooms.

Smith didn't describe how the province is working to make such progress in hospitals, focusing her responses instead on cutting management positions in the health system.

"Anyone who is giving direct patient service should feel very comforted that we're going to support them," she said. "We're just not simply going to pay money to managers for not seeing patients anymore. That era is over."

Adriana LaGrange, Alberta's health minister, declined an interview request by CTV News Edmonton, instead sharing a message on social-media platform X that Alberta's "urban emergency departments are experiencing increased pressure, but I want to emphasize that no patient has been turned away. Care continues to be provided, with priority given to the sickest of patients.”

Parks said while it's true hospitals don't turn people looking for care away, the number of them unwilling to wait is rising.

"We know for a fact that our 'left without being seen' numbers are just skyrocketing," he said. 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Kyra Markov

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