Election winner must fix health staffing gaps: Alberta surgeon

Responding to the criticism, the UCP said its government inherited a “broken, bloated, and bureaucratic health system” from the NDP

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The winner of this month’s provincial election must devote significant resources to combating health-care staffing shortages, according to the head of the Alberta Association of General Surgeons.

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Dr. Tony Gomes said the new government must empower Alberta Health Services to recruit and pay a raft of new workers, challenging the challenges in hiring and retaining physicians and residents putting Alberta at risk of being unable to receive care unable.

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“This transcends politics, and the solution of this will have to come from whatever government is chosen by Albertans,” said Gomes, a general surgeon in Lethbridge.

“Some of this is monetary, some of this is organizational and some of this is a manpower crisis. We’re now competing for that manpower, and that competition is largely monetary. Whoever forms our upcoming government needs to pay attention to all these gaps in health care.”

‘It should be unbelievable to the average person’

The comments come following reports of short staffing at three Calgary hospitals this weekend. Foothills Medical Centre, Rockyview General Hospital and Peter Lougheed Center each came into the weekend with some unfilled surgical support staff shifts, though AHS said the hospitals filled all open shifts Saturday and Sunday and no surgeons were delayed.

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Health officials are increasingly scrambling to fill these house staff support shifts, Gomes said, describing staffing gaps as a major problem over about the past two years.

He said that at times it has resulted in hospitals having to divert emergency general surgeries to other hospitals.

“Surgeons have been asking for regular coverage for support staff, and AHS has had trouble finding it,” Gomes said.

“The fact that the shifts had been filled — and maybe there were no delays apart from the usual delays, moving people around — that’s actually beside the point. The fact that AHS allowed the situation to escalate into a nearly unmanageable situation, it should be unbelievable to the average person.”

In a statement to Postmedia, AHS said emergency surgeries continue to be performed at all hospitals in and around Calgary as required.

“Each site has a general surgeon on call and there are staff surgeons available at all sites,” the health authority said.

“All patients continue to be triaged and treated, and our medical teams will evaluate all patients who may require surgery as they always do.”

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UCP says it inherited a ‘broken, bloated’ system from the NDP

Holding a campaign news conference outside Foothills Hospital on Sunday, NDP candidate Kathleen Ganley raised alarms over the reported gap in support staff coverage.

She charged Alberta’s health-care system is in crisis under the UCP government.

“We will launch the largest health-care workforce recruitment campaign in the history of our province. We will make sure you get the care you need, when you need it, close to home,” said Ganley, who is running for re-election in Calgary-Mountain View.

Kathleen Ganley, Alberta NDP candidate for Calgary-Mountain View, respondent to new reports of staffing shortages leading to surgery delays at three of Calgary's major hospitals at Foothills Hospital in Calgary on May 7.
Kathleen Ganley, Alberta NDP candidate for Calgary-Mountain View, respondent to new reports of staffing shortages leading to surgery delays at three of Calgary’s major hospitals at Foothills Hospital in Calgary on May 7. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

Responding to that criticism, the UCP said its government inherited a “broken, bloated and bureaucratic health system” from the NDP.

Party spokesman Dave Prisco said more work still needs to be done, but said the UCP has added 700 physicians and nearly 6,000 staff to AHS, including 1,800 registered nurses and 300 paramedics.

“Alberta is tracking in the right direction, and trending upwards in terms of surgeries performed. We’re seeing huge improvements from pre-pandemic surgical volumes,” Prisco said.

Election day is May 29.

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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