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Innisfail’s COVID crisis at the crossroads

Leading Innisfail physician says burn out and attrition could come for many health-care professionals
MVT Dr. Jesse Christiansen
Dr. Jesse Christiansen, a family physician at the Innisfail Medical Clinic, speaks to Innisfailians at the Innisfail Health Care Providers Appreciation BBQ on Sept. 2. He told them the fourth wave of the COVID-19 could be the worst one yet for the town. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – The fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is causing increased exhaustion with local healthcare professionals who are close to burn out with no apparent end in sight.

That is the view of Dr. Jesse Christiansen, a family physician at the Innisfail Medical Clinic who also works emergency shifts at the Innisfail Health Centre, who spoke bluntly and publicly on Sept. 2 at the Innisfail Health Care Providers Appreciation BBQ about demands forced on health-care professionals to deal with rising COVID-19 cases during the pandemic’s fourth wave.

Christiansen told The Albertan he had a duty to honestly communicate to Innisfailians about the current state of health care, and that this issue was not just about health-care professionals but more about the impact it would have on the community.

“I am sorry (this) wasn’t a sunnier speech but it wasn’t a sunny day. We could have been sitting inside if this wasn’t going on right now,” said Christiansen of the overcast day on Sept. 2 made gloomier by the ongoing pandemic.

“We are going to see huge attrition and burnout. This is the kind of stuff that didn’t need to happen," he added.

Christiansen said there has been a “big change” in the numbers of local COVID cases arriving for emergency help with symptoms of COVID, and who are testing positive afterwards.

“We haven’t had many COVID patients for a number of months in Innisfail but over the last few weeks we started getting many, many more and Red Deer is reaching capacity with its ICU for COVID patients as well,” said Christiansen, who worked an emergency shift at the hospital a few days earlier and saw “several” COVID patients. “We are looking at a situation where we are obviously in a fourth wave and it has the potential to be the worst one we’ve had yet.

“We are at a point now where in the first few waves people didn’t have the ability to be vaccinated. We couldn’t do anything about those waves. This wave is one that in my opinion was completely preventable,” he said. “We cut back on the restrictions must faster than any province and didn’t really lay out any guide posts to say, ‘if things don’t go well this is what we are going to do to change it’, and as far as I know we haven’t received a lot of guidance of where we are going to go now, even though we seem to be heading on a trajectory towards this getting out of control.

“I don’t want to be alarmist. I don’t want people to think we are fear mongering. We just want people to know the information,” he added.

Christiansen said many of the province’s decisions have not taken into consideration the impact they’ve had on health-care workers, especially nurses and health-care aids working at the hospital every day.

“They are burning out. You can see it around the province. They’ve had bed closures. We’ve avoided it so far but we’re not far from it,” said Christiansen, pointing out the Innisfail hospital’s capacity for patients is dependent on what is happening at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre. “When Red Deer reaches capacity they send us patients that are appropriate to come here, so I think around the province we are testing the limits of our health-care system.

“I am very, very worried about the attrition after we get through the fourth wave and when we can be done with COVID and I don’t know when that is going to be,” he said. “You are going to see, especially nurses, a lot of them leave because they’ve just burnt themselves out over this time period. And those are resources that are not easy to replace.”

As for doctors, Christiansen believes the same scenario is coming as well but for other reasons. He noted doctors don’t have to “deal with the daily grind” as nurses for patient care, but there is the ongoing testy and unresolved contract issue with the provincial government.

“I’m not really sure where things are at with that,” said Christiansen, adding his workload has greatly increased. “I’ve gone from usually having a wait time of two or three days to get in to see me to about two or three weeks. I am working more than I usually do and it’s still that way because the other clinic in town has closed. We lost a number of doctors who had a lot of patients with them.

“We need more physicians but recruiting here is going to become more and more difficult if things continue the way they are,” he said, adding it would be wise for Innisfailians to ask themselves an important question.

“Who is talking about taking care of the community, working together, supporting each other, and who is really sending out a message much more about self-interest and selfishness?" he asked. “I think people need to call that out. I think we need to be really careful we don’t lose something we really value because we were not paying attention.”

On Sept. 15, the province announced further restrictions intended to help stop the transmission of COVID-19.


Johnnie Bachusky

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