Alberta doctors urge government to do more amid coronavirus pandemic

Hundreds of physicians are urging the Alberta government to not only put upcoming contract changes on hold but also take further steps to help prevent the novel coronavirus pandemic from overwhelming the province’s health-care system.

A letter written by Dr. Lana Myroniuk, a family doctor in Edmonton, on behalf of 558 other Alberta physicians was sent to Premier Jason Kenney, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, provincial Health Minister Tyler Shandro and other members of the Alberta legislature on Sunday night. (Scroll down to read the entire letter below.)

“We are in the throes of a national emergency with the arrival of COVID-19 in Canada,” said Myroniuk, a maternity and family physician who also teaches at the University of Alberta.

“With the number of cases in Alberta growing by the day, it will not be long before we find ourselves in the same position as our fellow global citizens in China, Italy, Iran and Spain, amongst others.”

As of March 16, the number of cases worldwide has topped 183,000. Italy, the hardest-hit European country, on Tuesday morning recorded nearly 28,000 cases and 2,158 deaths — including 349 more in just the last 24 hours. The nation now accounts for well over a quarter of the global death toll.

Myroniuk said that if Alberta is not successful in “flattening the curve” in the next several days, the strain on the health-care system will be unprecedented.

“I shiver at the thought of Canadian doctors having to decide who will live and who will die, as is the case in Italy right now.”

She said physicians are doing what they can to stop the community spread of COVID-19 but can’t continue without government intervention.

“When the exponential rise in cases comes in the next few days, the cuts will limit our ability to continue working on the front lines. This will push patients to seek care in ERs, which will be simply unable to accommodate them,” Myroniuk wrote.

“We are literally risking our lives, and the lives of our families, to help Albertans amidst this crisis.”

The letter praised two recent initiatives but said they weren’t enough.

On March 12, the province activated a billing code known as 03.01AD, which the health minister said was used during the H1N1 response. The code allows physicians to be paid $20 per call when giving COVID-19 advice over the phone.

Then, on Friday, Shandro addressed concerns there could be nurse layoffs and other staff reductions after April 1, when the new budget year begins, as part of long-term planned changes to health spending.

“There are not going to be any layoffs of (Alberta Health Services) employees during the COVID-19 response,” said Shandro, who added that he expects staffing increases to deal with the outbreak.

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