The government of Alberta is considering setting up more field hospitals as part of its COVID-19 “contingency plan,” and has asked the Canadian Red Cross for help with that.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alberta have risen steadily in recent weeks, as have daily infections, with a total of 504 in hospital on Wednesday, with 97 being treated in ICUs.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the request for the tent is “not something that’s in our current plan.”
But he said officials have reached out to the Red Cross to ask about and negotiate a tent, like the one erected outside the Peter Lougheed Centre in the spring, “if and when we needed it.”
“They’ve begun conversations, but this is not part of our current plans, this is conversations about a contingency plan – which health officials should be doing.”
When asked about when the government believes it may need to enact that contingency plan, Shandro said that was a question for Alberta Health Services.
“If it would ever have to be erected and installed in Alberta, that would be up to AHS to make that decision, so I would defer that question to them,” he said.
Premier Jason Kenney called the request a “sign of responsible planning” for a “potential extreme scenario,” and said the same kind of planning was underway in the spring when regions across the world were setting up makeshift hospitals to handle surges in cases.
“Thankfully we’ve never been close to having to call upon that kind of extraordinary capacity,” Kenney said.
“The reality is that we have and can continue to create capacity, as we expect — quite bluntly — the hospitalizations numbers to go up, given the new cases in the last few weeks. But that demonstrates that we’re not anywhere at the point of having to call on that kind of overflow capacity.”
Alberta has approximately 85,000 beds across the province’s roughly 100 hospitals, and the government is working to expand the number of beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients to more than 2,200.
A government source told Global News the request for a tent from the Red Cross did not include a request for staff.
In a Twitter thread on Wednesday evening, AHS said it had “developed plans to create some low-acuity inpatient beds in non-healthcare facilities in Calgary and Edmonton,” adding its “vital we have the vital agreements in place with our external partners should we need them.”
AHS said in addition to the Red Cross, it also reached out to Public Safety Canada for help with additional beds if the need arises.
“These additional beds would be used for low acuity patients, or vulnerable populations who need low-acuity healthcare,” AHS said.
In an emailed statement on Thursday, press secretary for Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Cole Davidson, said the federal government is “standing by and ready to deploy any available resources Alberta needs.”
“Last night, the minister spoke to Minister Shandro about the rising cases of COVID-19 in Alberta and offered additional federal resources,” Davidson said.
Edmonton mayor Don Iveson said during discussions with the province earlier in the pandemic, locations for possible field hospitals came up.
He said in April, Northlands was looked at as a possible location – either inside the EXPO centre or using the parking lot in some way.
Iveson said he’s always assured the province that the city is standing by and ready to help in any way.
“The city will do whatever is necessary.”
The Red Cross wouldn’t answer any Alberta-specific questions on Wednesday, and also directed Global News’ questions to AHS.
It did provide an emailed statement saying it is “well-positioned to assist with pandemic efforts and continues to work with all levels of government to address emerging needs across the country.”
The Red Cross has provided supports to jurisdictions across Canada, including field hospital components, skilled people, viral spread prevention and control expertise and assistance in long-term care homes.
B.C.’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Bonnie Henry said Wednesday that province has also reached out the Red Cross for help, but in the form of human resources support.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province’s overall hospital capacity isn’t an issue, but the system is in need of people.
“It’s not the beds at the field hospital that would be required, but we are always are looking to increase our staff capacity, particularly in a time of pandemic, everywhere,” he said.
B.C. made the decision to convert the Vancouver Convention Centre into a makeshift hospital in March. Henry also said the province has “hospitals in a box” that can be used, as well as mobile medical units and plans for deployment of those resources, if the need arises.
On Wednesday, Alberta also announced its plan for receiving and administering vaccinations once they arrive in the province. Officials expect to start immunizing people in January.
Alberta saw 1,685 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the last 24 hours, and the province’s test positivity rate rose to 9.2 per cent. A total of 17,144 Albertans have an active case of the novel coronavirus.