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Home > News & Events > News Releases > News Release Archive > AHS launches overcapacity protocols

Alberta Health Services launches overcapacity protocols

December 17, 2010

EDMONTON – New provincewide overcapacity protocols aimed at reducing peak pressures in emergency departments (EDs) and other parts of the health system during periods of high patient volume launch December 20.

"Reducing peak pressures in EDs and elsewhere in the system requires hospital, community and system-wide strategies. This initiative involves all areas of the health system working together to ensure patients receive timely access to care and that the sickest patients are not left waiting for care," said Dr. Chris Eagle, acting President and CEO of Alberta Health Services (AHS).

The overcapacity protocols announced today respond directly to Alberta Health and Wellness Minister Gene Zwozdesky's earlier requests and directives; and involve every AHS zone and the major hospitals across Alberta, including facilities in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray. They were developed last month following meetings involving more than 120 physicians, clinical leaders and administrative staff from across Alberta.

The overcapacity protocols build on current practices by setting new targets, that when reached, will trigger immediate actions to reduce emergency department wait times by improving the ability to move admitted patients out of EDs on an as needed urgent basis to avoid critical over-capacity situations. Actions can be escalated, up to the CEO level, if impact on wait times is not timely. The protocols for each facility and zone in the province are similar, but have been customized to meet the needs of the population served. The intent is to approach emergency department pressures as a hospital, zone and system-wide issue.

The overcapacity protocols free up care spaces for patients in emergency departments who require hospital admission. Patients might be asked to share a room; to move to a different room or facility; to receive ongoing care in the community; or to be admitted to a hospital unit and given a stretcher or chair in a temporary location.

"Patients will receive care in the most appropriate place available at that time, even if it's not the ideal location," said Dr. Cheri Nijssen-Jordan, AHS Senior Medical Lead and an emergency room physician. "We expect the protocols will address the concerns of Albertans by increasing access for patients and providing safe, timelier care."

"The ongoing support of physicians and staff will be critical to the implementation of the protocols," said Dr. Bill Dickout, medical director at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, one of several sites across the province that have piloted the new protocols. "Health care is complex and sustained change will take time. AHS is putting the processes and mechanisms in place that will help staff and physicians throughout AHS make decisions and deliver the best possible care to patients and families."

The overcapacity protocols are part of a larger strategy to reduce emergency department and health system pressures and will evolve over time based on feedback from staff and physicians.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than 3.7 million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.

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