Opposition, health advocates speak out over closure of Royal Alexandra transition unit

EDMONTON- The transition unit at the Royal Alexandra Hospital will be closing at the end of February.

The 30 bed transition unit was opened in 2010 in order to accommodate patients who no longer required acute care and were waiting to move into long-term care facilities.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) say the unit was meant as temporary additional capacity until other beds were made available in the community.

“Since then we’ve built about, added about, close to 600 beds in the community. So now, two years is up and we’re transitioning away from that unit,” explained Mike Conroy, Senior Vice-President for the AHS Edmonton zone.

However, Opposition members and health advocates say the closure is a cost cutting measure by a government that is having budget troubles.

“It’s just another indication of some of the budget choices that this government is making,” said Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare.

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“They’re looking for the easiest place to cut,” added Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle. “But cutting transition units… is not the place to do that.”

Towle worries the closure of this unit will increase wait times for those waiting for beds in long-term care facilities.

“With a population that’s aging, we need more appropriate care for that aging population and we don’t have that right now. So, the more often that they’re forced to go to a hospital or forced to use emergency or forced to not get home care, that’s going to increase the cost to our health care system.”

She says the government needs to create a long-term care strategy.

“The problem is that the government has had no strategy to increase long-term care spaces so, (this is) a temporary program that’s still much needed.”

“Bed closures and reductions of front-line staff will only create more pressure on an already stretched health care system,” added Azocar.

There are currently 41 front-line staff members working in the transition unit at the Royal Alexandra. Conroy maintains none of those staff members will be losing their jobs.

“They’ll be redeployed to other opportunities, because quite frankly, we have vacancies in a number of areas and their skills will be of high value in a number of different service areas.”

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The transition unit was originally slated to close in the fall but, it was kept open to help during flu season.

With files from Quinn Ohler.