The Alberta government and Stollery Children’s Hospital are moving forward with a feasibility study on a new, modern, stand-alone children’s hospital.
The new Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton would offer more beds and more services for children and families across Western Canada, the province said Thursday.
The government will contribute $1 million from Budget 2021’s health planning funds to launch capital planning.
The Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation will contribute a matching $1 million to help develop the needs assessment, capital cost estimate and business case.
“It’s exciting to explore new ways to offer high-quality care to our patients as we look at the possibility of a stand-alone Stollery Children’s Hospital,” said Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services.
“The Stollery currently serves an area far beyond Edmonton and this process will help us better understand the needs and prepare to support children and families well into the future.”
The first step involves AHS development of a needs assessment for a new children’s hospital, reviewing what services the Stollery currently offers, identifying any gaps in care or services, and then exploring options for construction sites around the University of Alberta Hospital.
The next step will see a consultant hired by Alberta Infrastructure to develop a business case for the project, which will include how many beds are needed and what other services and programs should be included in a new children’s hospital. A high-level cost estimate will also be completed.
“We’re really, really lucky to have some of the best care for kids anywhere at the Stollery,” said Mike House, CEO of the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation.
The current Stollery Children’s Hospital was built in 2001, with the majority of services and beds located in the U of A Hospital and the Walter C. Mackenzie Health Sciences Centre.
The Stollery operates 236 beds and is the largest children’s hospital by bed count west of Toronto.
Patients come from beyond the city, House said, from northern Alberta, northern B.C., all the Prairie provinces and three Territories. In fact, more than 40 per cent of children treated at the Stollery are from outside the Edmonton area.
The Stollery sees more than 300,000 patient visits per year.
“The pressure on the Stollery only grows with each passing year,” House said.
“We are excited to work with government toward the goal of building a modern, purpose-built, stand-alone children’s hospital in Edmonton,” he added, “one that is designed to provide the best physical and mental health care possible to kids and youth who are sick or injured.”
The hospital foundation has been advocating for a stand-alone children’s hospital for some time. In March 2019, the foundation urged provincial election candidates to prioritize children’s health care.
When her son Ben was diagnosed with cancer in 2019, Erica Thomas and her family spent a lot of time in the Stollery.
“While as an oncology patient you get in fast — they find you a room fast — there were still lots of times where we spent upwards of 24 hours in emergency because there just wasn’t space in the ward that we needed to get to.
“There were also lots of times where we didn’t get to walk through the doors of the oncology ward when my son would go in with a fever; we had to go to a different ward, which is difficult when you build that relationship with the nurses… in whatever ward is sort of your home base,” Thomas said.
“They do an amazing job. The Stollery is a world-class facility, but there’s only so much they can do with the space they have.
“In 2019, we were already waiting for space. There were times when they had to turn the playrooms into actual patient rooms,” she said. “It’s very long overdue.”
Thomas said a designated children’s hospital could mean more space, more beds, more continuity of care and more kid-focused spaces, including outdoor play areas.
“When you walk into the Stollery Children’s Hospital, it very much feels like just a normal hospital… On that main floor, it’s very much an adult hospital.
“I can’t imagine what it would feel like to be able to walk through the front doors of the hospital and to have the whole hospital feel like home for parents and kids who are getting treatment.
“To have it feel like it’s a place for them, I think will be incredible.”
Her son is now in remission but Thomas can relate to other — future — patients and their families.
“What it could mean and what I hope it will mean is that families that are coming from out of town will have more space to be together as a family when their child is in there getting treatment,” she said.
“We are very excited about today’s announcement because it’s an announcement about opportunity,” said Dr. Mark Joffe, vice-president and medical director of Alberta Health Services.
He said it will give AHS the chance to look closely at the health-care journey of patients and families. AHS and the Stollery can look at what they’re doing well and what they can improve on, he said.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro pointed out that, unlike Calgary or Vancouver, Edmonton does not have a stand-alone children’s hospital; it’s a hospital within a hospital.