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Calgary hospital restricts visitors, postpones surgeries as COVID-19 infections grow

Visitors to the hospital are now only allowed in end-of-life situations or if they have been pre-approved as essential.
The Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, Alta., is seen on Wednesday, April 1, 2020, amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — A Calgary hospital is postponing surgeries and restricting visitors as a COVID-19 outbreak grows. 

Alberta Health Services said Monday that 26 patients and 27 workers at the Foothills Medical Centre have contracted the novel coronavirus. Four patients have died. 

As of Friday, 136 workers were in isolation. 

Visitors to the hospital are now only allowed in end-of-life situations or if they have been pre-approved as essential. 

"We know this is difficult for everyone and we will do all we can to keep these additional restrictions in place for as short a time as possible," the health agency said in a statement. 

Alberta Health Services has postponed 39 surgeries that were scheduled for Monday due to staff restrictions and a reduced number of in-patient beds at Foothills. It said the procedures are being rescheduled as quickly as possible, most within the next week. 

Emergency surgeries are continuing and the emergency department remains open.

Alberta Health Services has said previously that separate outbreaks in the Foothills cardiac care and general medicine units did not appear to be connected. 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer, has said there have been reports of visitors not wearing masks and a staff member working while symptomatic, though a definitive cause has not been determined.

The United Nurses of Alberta's labour relations director wrote to the CEO of Alberta Health Services last week urging more support for workers forced to isolate due to workplace COVID-19 outbreaks. 

Among other things, David Harrigan suggests in his letter to Dr. Verna Yiu that special paid pandemic leave, which was cancelled in July, be reinstated. He also said workers can be assigned tasks that can be completed in isolation. 

“Nurses who are required to self-isolate because of outbreaks in hospitals and long-term care centres are being forced to use sick leave days or take a financial hit,” Harrigan said in a statement last Thursday.

“Regular employees are running through their sick leave banks and casual nurses don’t have access to sick leave, so they are losing income.”

He also said nurses are feeling "extremely misused and disrespected," and he's concerned that they will feel pressured to report for work even if they are feeling ill. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2020

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press