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Covenant Health marks decade of growth and challenges

29 October 2018

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

It’s been 10 years since 16 health care centres from across Alberta came together to form Covenant Health, one of the largest Catholic health care providers in Canada, and it has grown ever since.

“Over the last decade the organization we’ve become is so much stronger, more resilient” and continues that growth year and year, Covenant Health chief executive officer Patrick Dumelie said at the organization’s annual meeting Oct. 24.

“Because we’ve come together and work together, we’re in a position to really positively help transform the system. We see our role not only as a quality service provider but as an organization that will influence innovation and change and meet the growing demands and needs for all Albertans.”

Covenant Health has expanded acute care, continuing care and independent living for a total of 26 sites in 15 communities across Alberta. Covenant Health has a workforce of nearly 16,000, including more than 2,200 physicians, 2,400 volunteers, and almost 11,000 staff members.

While Covenant Health’s sites have grown, there have been challenges.

The health care provider has struggled with a shortage of doctors and nurses at its rural sites, including its Killam Health Centre – about 165 kilometres southeast of Edmonton – which had to warn patients of a doctor shortage for emergency services earlier this month.

To address this, construction continues on a $13-million redevelopment of the Killam Health Centre, which will include a new, 50-suite Killam Campus of Care for Seniors residence.

Dumelie said it’s part of Covenant Health’s rural model of care, which will maximize the services provided by its physicians and professional staff with flexible and adaptable emergency, continuing and senior care.

Dr. Owen Heisler

Another challenge is the opioid abuse crisis. In the first half of the year, Alberta Health Services reported 330 fentanyl overdose deaths, an increase of 83 compared to the first half of 2017. There were 569 fentanyl overdose deaths in Alberta in 2017, and 348 in 2016.

Covenant Health is working with Alberta Health Services, law enforcement, and community organizations to educate people on the affects and appropriate uses of opioids.

“We’re trying to be as innovative as we really can,” said chief medical officer Dr. Owen Heisler.

That innovation extends to Covenant Health’s acute care centres in Edmonton.

In September, two new operating rooms were opened at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital, which will help surgeons perform more procedures and give them the ability to handle more complex cases.

“Patients will spend less time in surgery and less time in recovery, which will help them get home faster,” said Karen Macmillan, senior operating officer of Grey Nuns acute services.

The Grey Nuns hospital was also one of three sites – including Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton and the Bonnyville Health Centre – to receive baby-friendly designation by the World Health Organization and Breastfeeding Committee for Canada.

The recognition is for initiatives leading to high quality baby care such as promoting breastfeeding.

One in five babies born in Alberta each year is born at a Covenant Health hospital.

As Covenant Health marks its first decade, Dumelie said the theme for that milestone –  “Many voices, one mission: stronger together” – sums up where the health care provider is today.

“We came together in an effort to improve our quality and we’ve done that but we’ve also created an organization that has great influence, using our voice for those who are marginalized and vulnerable, to addressing those needs,” Dumelie said.

“Also our ability to drive innovation and influence other organizations to provide better quality care has tremendously improved over the last decade.”

Dumelie said the next decade will hold even more promise, as Covenant Health works with Alberta Health Services and other organizations to ensure health care meets community needs.

“We’re not only excited about where we’re at as an organization but our vision for the future.”