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Local nurse says Northern Lights Regional Healthcare Centre at a "breaking point"

PHOTO. The Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, pictured Summer 2019. MYMCMURRAY/Melanie Walsh

FORT MCMURRAY (660 NEWS) – A local ER nurse has stated that the Northern Lights Regional Healthcare Centre is at a “breaking point”.

At a press conference on Thursday, registered nurse and President of the United Nurses of Alberta Local 96 Jo-Ann Cluney said the hospital is doing its best, but that healthcare staff are overworked.

“The hospital is incredibly full right now,” Cluney said. “Our six regular ICU beds are full. We’ve expanded into the recovery areas and even the surgical areas to add another 14 beds, and we are looking to expand even further into the day surgery areas. We have redeployed a lot of people out of the OR and the ER, all into the ICU. We’ve cancelled surgeries except for emergencies and c-sections.”

Cluney, who has worked 12 12-hour shifts in the past two weeks, said nurses’ phones are “blasting” with overtime shifts.

“We would rather have the time off than the overtime, but when you get the second or third call saying your unit is three people short, you go in. You just have to. You get in there and you’re still working short-handed.”

Cluney said it’s hard to cope and that she worries about the mental health of her fellow nurses.

“We are keeping our heads above water, but the hospital is at a breaking point.”

NDP Leader Rachel Notley joined Cluney at the press conference and blamed “the UCP’s failure to manage the fourth wave” of the pandemic for the volume of COVID-19 patients that are clogging up ICUs.

“Northern Lights Regional Healthcare Centre is running far over its usual capacity, as are hospitals right across Alberta,” said Notley. “So if there was a serious incident on the highway or on a worksite, critically injured Albertans would have to be transported all the way to Edmonton.”

Notley said workers in Fort McMurray are burnt out, stressed, and struggling to keep up with the constant rush of patients from across the Alberta Health Services North Zone.

“I know there’s some help from Newfoundland coming to Fort McMurray this weekend and they are most welcome. These workers will help no doubt, but let’s be clear that Fort McMurray has opened more ICU beds than ever before.”

According to the most recent statistics, active cases of COVID-19 have decreased slightly in Fort McMurray to 332 and there are 19 in rural Wood Buffalo.

To date, 18 city residents and 2 from surrounding communities have died.