Emergency doctor says some health triage has begun in Alberta: ‘People will suffer and will die’

The head of emergency medicine for the Alberta Medical Association says major components of triage have already begun in Alberta, even though the protocol hasn’t officially been implemented.

Dr. Paul Parks said that in recent days some critically ill COVID-19 patients who should be on ventilators are not getting them.

That’s on top of previously announced mass cancellations of surgeries, along with patient transfers, as doctors balance medical need with available space, he said.

Parks said it has become routine in hospitals in the last two weeks to have some critically ill patients — most of them unvaccinated COVID-19 cases — kept on main wards rather than in intensive care units on ventilators because they don’t have the resources.

Read more: ‘100 per cent’ of Alberta’s new COVID-19 ICU admissions have no vaccine protection: Hinshaw

“We already are in positions in many hospitals across Alberta where the doctors know that it would be best for this patient to be in ICU and be on a ventilator, but we’re not providing that option until they absolutely deteriorate to the point of crashing,” Parks said Friday in an interview.

“We already are implementing some of these things that are drastic and we wish we never would have.

“People will suffer and will die by this.”

Parks said it’s not at the point where doctors must make on-the-spot, life-and-death decisions. But he said that’s not far away and, when it comes, the second stage of triage will follow quickly, including making those same decisions about children.

Click to play video: 'What does triage protocol look like in Alberta?' 2:01 What does triage protocol look like in Alberta?

What does triage protocol look like in Alberta?

Alberta Health Services is doing everything it can, he said, but the government has failed to lead by imposing lax health restrictions and by allowing mass gatherings, including in schools and at sports events.

Alberta is seeing well over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases a day.

Read more: Alberta health-care workers desperate for COVID-19 help: ‘We are treading water as furiously as we can’

Parks said there needs to be an immediate response, including mandatory mask mandates everywhere and shutting down schools and mass gatherings.

An Alberta Health Services spokesperson said Friday the critical care triage has not been implemented, and the health authority hopes it will not have to do so.

“It will only be implemented if all efforts to increase ICU capacity are exhausted — that has not happened yet,” Kerry Williamson said in an email to Global News, adding AHS continues to add ICU surge spaces, including 42 in the past seven days (and 20 in the past 24 hours).

“Any patient who requires mechanical ventilation is currently able to receive it,” he said.

Dr. Verna Yiu, head of Alberta Health Services, said Thursday one key reason intensive care wards have not been overwhelmed is because enough COVID-19 patients are dying to free up bed space.

“It’s tragic that we are only able to keep pace with some of these sort of numbers because, in part, some of our ICU patients have passed away,” she said on Thursday.

Yiu said the ICU admission numbers are highs the province hasn’t seen in the three previous waves of COVID-19, nor in Alberta’s history.

She said every day, the province reaches a new high.

Williamson acknowledged AHS is operating at a “reduced standard of care, however safety remains at the forefront of all decisions.”

— With files from Heide Pearson, Global News

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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