May 21st, 2024

Edmonton doctors say too few neonatal beds, staff endangering babies

By The Canadian Press on April 16, 2024.

Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Health for Alberta, makes a health care announcement in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023. A doctors' group says neonatal intensive care units in Edmonton have been too full and it's putting vulnerable babies at risk. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

EDMONTON – A doctors’ group says neonatal intensive care units in Edmonton have been too full and it’s putting vulnerable babies at risk.

Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange says transporting those infants to other cities or provinces is an option to ensure they get the care they need.

The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association detailed its concerns in an open letter to LaGrange and the head of Alberta Health Services, the provincial front-line health-care delivery agency.

The association says a safe capacity in a neonatal ward is 80 to 85 per cent to allow for emergency cases, but those units were at 95 to 102 per cent capacity about a third of the time between January and March.

The association says nurses are caring for too many babies at once, and that means some underweight infants aren’t able to eat on time.

It also says most neonatal units are not set up in a way that allows for parents to stay with their babies overnight.

“These babies have nowhere else to be cared for and we believe the situation has become so critical that deaths of infants may soon follow,” Dr. Manpreet Gill, president of the medical group, and Dr. Amber Reichert, a neonatologist and association member, wrote in the letter.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday at the legislature, LaGrange said she’s asked her department and Alberta Health Services to brief her on immediate options to fix the issue.

“If we need to transport those babies or their families to other cities or other provinces, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that our babies are well looked after,” she said, calling the letter “very upsetting.”

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said it’s “horrifying” to hear Edmonton families now have to worry about whether their babies can get safe care.

“The fact that the minister is musing about flying babies in (neonatal intensive care) out of the province for care is a declaration of failure by this UCP government,” said Notley.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2024.

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