‘Essential’ to replace aging Royal Alex, hospital foundation says

(WATCH: There’s a push to have the Royal Alexandra Hospital reborn. Vinesh Pratap has more on where the call is coming from and reaction from the health minister.)

EDMONTON — The Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation is sounding the alarm over the declining state of the aging main facility.

“A new Royal Alexandra Hospital is essential to Edmonton and essential to northern Alberta,” Chair John Day wrote in the hospital foundation’s 2013-14 Report to the Community.

The hospital, in the heart of Edmonton, cares for more than half a million patients each year, many of them from northern Alberta, he added.

RAH has one of the busiest emergency departments in the country and handles more surgeries than any other hospital in the province, he explained. But its “aging infrastructure” makes the already challenging job of staff “even more difficult to maintain.”

“The Royal Alexandra hospital was designed in the 1950s, it’s a 1960s build and, really, that is now obsolete. The way the hospital was designed for those needs back then has radically changed,” said vice president of the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation, Sharlene Rutherford.

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The Royal Alex campus contains more than a dozen buildings. The focus for replacement is what’s called the Active Treatment Centre. It is the main area of care and contains about half the inpatient beds on site. During busy periods, the centre has more than 100-per-cent occupancy.

“The crowded four-bed (and at times five-bed) patient rooms create an environment that lacks dignity, and contributes to high infection rates and unsatisfactory patient experiences,” Day wrote of the space.

“The needs assessment by the Alberta Health Services identified the ATC as obsolete and unable to meet modern medical standards of care.”

Day said these challenges are even more of an issue because of superbugs. Between January and November 2012, more than 500 patients were infected with superbugs at the hospital. Eight-five per cent of infections occurred in the older, main building.

READ MORE: 1 in 12 Canadian adults in hospital infected with superbug, study finds

Day argued the time to act is now.

“Replacing the main building of the Royal Alexandra Hospital’s aging infrastructure is officially recognized as the number one priority for Alberta Health Services, following comprehensive, province-wide needs assessments in 1997, 2012, and 2014.”

The province’s health minister confirmed the Royal Alex is a priority.

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“We’re looking at all the capital needs of the province, and Royal Alex was always ranked higher than any other need in the province,” Stephen Mandel said Wednesday.

RAH not the only hospital vying to be replaced

The Royal Alexandra Hospital is the second Edmonton hospital to call for replacement. Alberta’s PC government has long been under fire to replace the 45-year-old Misericordia in west Edmonton, which has been plagued with problems.

Just last week, the hospital was affected by flooding for the third time this year. Another flood in May 2013 forced more than 50 patients and more than 160 staff to be transferred to the RAH.

READ MORE: Surgeries, procedures delayed at Misericordia Hospital due to flooding

When asked about replacing that facility last week — a request that the NDP’s Rachel Notley says has been before the government for more than 10 years — Mandel would not give a solid yes or no. He said the province needs to look at the city and province as a whole.

“We’re evaluating the options, what we need to do. The fact really exists that both Edmonton and Calgary have a shortage of acute-care beds and when you look at plans, right now we’re just in the early stages of evaluating.”

As for the Royal Alexandra, Mandel said,”we’ll go through the process and see what we can do. We know that Albertans and Edmontonians really need this facility and we’ll do what we can.”

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The foundation stresses it’s not looking to pit one proposal against another. But it will continue to plead its case to as many people as possible.

You can read Day’s full letter below: