ICUs in Edmonton hospitals filling up, but not only because of COVID-19

Intensive care units in Edmonton are filling up, according to Alberta Health Services (AHS), and COVID-19 is only one of the factors.

“What we have been seeing is increased numbers of major traumas,” said Dr. David Zygun, AHS Edmonton zone medical director.

Summer is peak trauma season in the province. Zygun noted trauma volumes do fluctuate year-to-year.

“We’re certainly seeing increased activity in our opioid presentations in relation to addiction and mental health.”

Read more: AHS starts to work through backlog of surgeries after pause due to COVID-19

According to Zygun, hospitals are also trying to catch up on a backlog of scheduled surgeries that accrued during the lock-down.

“All of that is combining to have high occupancies,” he explained.

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According to AHS, there were 512 ICU admissions in Edmonton in May this year, compared to 433 in May 2019 — a 16.7 per cent increase.

In June, 456 people were admitted to the ICU, compared to 421 the same time last year — a 7.9 per cent increase.

July saw 457 admissions — 8.9 per cent higher than July 2019, when 418 ICU patients were admitted.

Read more: ICU doctor sends stark reminder about COVID-19 with tweet showing Alberta ventilators

“My biggest challenge is COVID patients are a different brand of ICU patient,” said Dr. Darren Markland, an intensive care physician and nephrologist at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, in an interview with 630 CHED’s Ryan Jespersen on Thursday morning.

“We have all different spectrums of diseases, but anyone who ends up in the unit because complications with COVID has multi-system disease.”

Markland said that can keep people in the ICU for a long time, so a bed could be unavailable for a month or sometimes longer.

2:24 Alberta ICU doctor sends stark reminder about COVID-19 with tweet of ventilators

Alberta ICU doctor sends stark reminder about COVID-19 with tweet of ventilators

He noted one patient has been in the ICU for six months.

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“We have to be very careful about this because once those beds are gone, we don’t have them for other things,” Markland explained.

For now, Zygun said the situation is not considered extreme.

READ MORE: Alberta data showing up to 3,100 deaths prompts province to increase beds, ventilators

“We watch the COVID admissions both to hospital and to the ICU on a daily basis,” he explained.

“We also have our predictive models looking at direction so we can predict days in advance.”

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