On any given day, hundreds of Albertans are admitted to hospital due to illness or injury.
Their expectation – and rightly so – is that if they need a hospital bed, a hospital bed will be available to them.
For the vast majority of patients, in the vast majority of occasions, this is the reality. They will be admitted to a bed, and that is where they will receive most of their care and treatment.
But our hospitals are busy, particularly those in large urban areas, and specifically those in Calgary and Edmonton. Currently, we are seeing an influx of influenza-related cases, weather-related injuries, and people suffering from respiratory illnesses.
This, coupled with the usual flow of patients needing our help, means that often our busiest hospitals operate at more than 100 per cent capacity.
This does not mean, however, that there are no hospital beds available. Nor does it mean that patients will not receive the care and attention they need.
Acute care hospitals and programs in Alberta at times operate at over 100 per cent capacity when the number of patients needing a bed exceeds availability.
This is a challenge, but AHS anticipates and prepares for these situations. We have provincial overcapacity protocols to ease capacity pressures and ensure patients receive the care they need.
These triggers are enacted relatively regularly, and are frequent and helpful tools available to us to ensure patient needs are met, even when capacity is high.
For example, in Calgary Zone, over-capacity protocols were activated 2,325 times between December 2013 and December 2014. In Edmonton, they were activated 3,415 times during the same time period.
It has been suggested that each time a protocol is triggered, that there are zero beds in the system. That is not the case – a trigger does not mean that there are no beds available, nor do they mean a patient won’t receive care.
What they do do, is allow us to take steps to increase capacity and free up beds.
For example, when these triggers are met, our teams look carefully at those patients who are currently in hospital but may be ready for discharge. If they can be safely and appropriately discharged, then they will go home and their bed will be used for another patient.
Another step that can be taken is repatriating medically stable patients back to a health care facility closer to their home. For example, a patient from a rural community may be well enough to be looked after at their local hospital, as opposed to a busy hospital in a major centre where bed pressures are highest.
Other initiatives aimed at reducing capacity pressures include providing additional home care resources to help patients upon discharge from hospital, opening up temporary beds, or transferring patients to nearby facilities that may be experiencing less demand.
There are times when we will use a treatment space that is not necessarily a bed, and there are times when we may utilize a temporary space to ensure a patient is cared for. This may include putting a stretcher in a two-patient room, or it may mean treating a patient in a chair.
We recognize overcapacity spaces are often inconvenient and less private for patients and their families.
But while patient safety and care is always our foremost concern, and while some of the spaces are not optimal, we are able to deliver safe and effective care to patients.