While healthcare is a provincial jurisdiction, residents of the city have continued to voice their opinions on the healthcare facilities in the city. Discover Airdrie spoke to two Airdronians who have had very different experiences with the city's Urgent Care Centre.
30 minutes after Alexis Breemersch had made a delicious dinner, she started experiencing the unnerving sensation of severe itching. Thinking nothing of it at the time, she proceeded to hop in the shower, and that's when she noticed other symptoms of a serious allergic reaction.
"I noticed that my mouth was swelling, so my husband was like, 'we need to take you to Urgent Care'," she said.
Breemersch said that although she had been to Urgent Care before and observed the wait times were what she described as 'brutal', this time was different. Her allergic reaction happened last October, in the middle of yet another COVID-19 wave and although she forgot her healthcare card at home, she was admitted right away.
"[They] had me hooked up, gave me two shots of Epi[Pen], two bags of saline; they were just fantastic. I think everything was set up in 10 minutes," Breemersch said. "They took everything so seriously, and everybody else said, 'Oh, they take hours.' If it's serious, they don't take hours. They take really good care of you, so I'm really impressed."
She estimates that from the time of her arrival at 6 P.M. to the time of her discharge, five hours had elapsed. In a written statement Alberta Health Services (AHS) Director, Media Relations & Issues Management James Wood wrote that Airdrie's Urgent Care provides services for unexpected but non-life-threatening health concerns that require same-day treatment.
"All patients are seen according to the urgency of their health condition, with the sickest patients being seen first," Wood wrote. "Patients with life-threatening conditions continue to be treated in emergency departments (EDs) within Calgary and the area. These EDs are in close proximity to the community of Airdrie and continue to provide emergency care for patients in Calgary and in neighbouring communities."
Breemersch also applauded the staff at the Urgent Care Centre, saying they were attentive and caring.
"The nurses checked on me every 30 minutes, which was fantastic. I had to go to the washroom quite a bit because they gave me a lot of fluids. I think they took me about four times in the five-hour span and they never sighed or made me feel bad about having to get up. Honestly, it was the best experience I've ever had in an emergency room."
When asked about her view on the question of whether a hospital would be beneficial to Airdrie, she said that she doesn't feel a rural hospital would add anything.
"I lived in Drumheller growing up, we have a hospital there. It's the same thing, they have an emergency room. What people don't understand about an emergency room is if you go in with something mild, that is not life-threatening, you will have to sit there if something more urgent comes," she said. "It's the same system. It's not like they're just making you sit there just wait. They're making you sit there because they have other priorities that have to be dealt with."
While Breemersch believes the majority of people's experiences in Urgent Care are overall positive, Airdrie mom Laurena Pollock said her experience with Urgent Care was not nearly as smooth, though she doesn't fault the staff. Last month on Mother's Day, Pollock's son, who is seven was having a grand time at a trampoline park, until he landed awkwardly on his hand.
"He jumped off of the climbing wall into the foam pit and he landed really bad on his thumb. I thought that he might have torn a ligament because it bent back really far; he was hysterical," she said. "We jumped in the car and came straight to Urgent Care. We ended up sitting there for almost six hours."
After the wait, she decided that she would buy a splint for her son and call her family doctor first thing in the morning. Though she underlined that it wasn't an issue of staff, it was an issue of not enough staff.
"The staff were great. They kept giving us ice packs and they gave him pain medication to manage it while we were waiting. But there were just too many people and not enough staff to help," Pollock said. "This is what we're faced with right now."
At one point when Pollock went back to get her son another icepack, she was informed the centre had run out of them for the day.
"I took their last one and they said they weren't getting more until the next day and they were hopeful it would last for the rest of our stay," she said. "It was very shocking. I counted about six of us in there that were all in there with some kind of a broken or injured limb that all had ice packs on them. I did see one person go up to about an hour after we did, and they ended up making some kind of a makeshift ice pack out of the ziplock bag."
When asked if Pollock had thought of going to the Children's Hospital in Calgary right away, she said that she had looked on the Alberta Health Services, Emergency Department Wait Times website to discover the wait time was approximately three hours.
"Factoring a 45-minute drive there and then waiting for three and a half hours and then a 45-minute drive home. I figured even with the added time that we might have to wait at Urgent Care, it's probably going to be the same amount of time and at least this way, I'm closer to home when we're done."
One trend that is seen on social media that Pollock alluded to was how to find wait times at different hospitals within the Airdrie area. Airdrie's Urgent Care Centre is listed on the Alberta Health Services, Emergency Department Wait Times website, though it states that, "wait times [are] unavailable".
AHS stated to Discover Airdrie that the reason for this is that AHS does not currently have the IT systems in place to provide additional wait time information on the website.
"However, we know this online information is of value to Albertans and hope to be able to add additional healthcare sites in the future. With the introduction of Connect Care, we hope to have wait time information for more urgent care centres, including Airdrie, posted soon," wrote James Wood.
When posed with the question of whether she believes Airdrie needs a hospital, Pollock said it may already be too late.
"It's beyond needed, in my opinion. I went to high school out here, and back then the population was [around] 25,000 and my husband and I just moved our family back here about eight years ago now," she said. "The amount that the city has grown, I actually think it's kind of ridiculous that we don't have a hospital and that we are having to rely on Calgary as much as we do. I've even had a few instances where I've driven a Didsbury just to try to mitigate wait times."
AHS acknowledged that they are experiencing significant pressure on their healthcare facilities due to high volumes of seriously ill patients and the impact of COVID-19, which includes an increased number of patients requiring hospitalization, and limited admissions to some hospital units due to infection control requirements, and increased staff absences.
"Healthcare facilities are also seeing an increase in patients with influenza-like symptoms, and in patients seeking care after deferring it at various times over the past two years. This situation is occurring in jurisdictions across Canada, not just in Alberta. We encourage people to consider other levels of care if they are not experiencing a medical emergency," AHS wrote. "AHS continues to work with the community of Airdrie, Alberta Health and the Airdrie Health Foundation in this effort."
The Airdrie Health Foundation also noted that wait times at Airdrie's Urgent Care Centre are a great concern to them and that is a topic that is currently being discussed with AHS.
Wood added that AHS, Alberta Health and Alberta Infrastructure work together to identify capital needs and priorities.
"Decisions regarding upgrading or replacing healthcare facilities are based on clinical needs and priorities in order to ensure the best quality health services are available in the most appropriate locations."
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