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Alberta adding up to 50 ICU beds to health system this year

Click to play video: 'Alberta announces $300M for ICU expansion' Alberta announces $300M for ICU expansion
WATCH ABOVE: Health Minister Jason Copping visited Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge on Wednesday to announce funding to add 50 permanent intensive care spaces across Alberta. Eloise Therien has the details. – Mar 2, 2022

The Alberta government announced Wednesday it will be increasing intensive care capacity with $300 million over three years.

The province is adding “up to 50 permanent, fully staffed intensive care unit (ICU) beds this year alone,” the UCP government said in a news release. The beds are funded by $100 million in the 2022 budget.

“That’s nearly a 30 per cent increase over current capacity,” Premier Jason Kenney said.

Read more: Alberta doctors say province needs to do more than expand capacity

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Alberta had 173 adult general ICU beds, but had to drastically ramp up critical care spaces to meet surging demand as multiple waves of COVID-19 hit. The Armed Forces had to be called in to assist.

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Health Minister Jason Copping said due to fast action by health staff and rising vaccination rates, the system was never overwhelmed to the point where doctors would have had to decide which patients got life-saving care and which did not.

Click to play video: 'Alberta Health Services implementing additional surge capacity measures amid COVID-19 spike' Alberta Health Services implementing additional surge capacity measures amid COVID-19 spike
Alberta Health Services implementing additional surge capacity measures amid COVID-19 spike – Apr 29, 2021

The lion’s share of the money is to go toward hiring staff for the beds and for planning how to redeploy health workers when ICU demand is slow.

The money is to finance new intensive care beds, hospital spaces, lab and hospital expansion, and to help recruit more physicians and nurses, particularly to fill vacancies in rural and remote areas.

The province did not say how many staffing positions would be included as part of the increase in capacity.

“One of the key learnings in the COVID era has been that we just did not have enough capacity,” Kenney said. “In 2019, Alberta inherited the lowest per-capita number of intensive care beds of any Canadian province, even though we have had one of the most expensive systems in Canada — and indeed one of the most expensive publicly administered systems in the world. That’s not acceptable. It’s just not good enough.

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“We were at risk of running out of space in our intensive care units at the peak of a couple of COVID waves,” the premier said.

Kenney said Budget 2022 added $600 million to Alberta’s base health-care budget and Budget 2021 added $900 million.

“These investments — $1.5 billion — means that Alberta has a record-high investment in health care.”

Read more: After 2 years of burnout stories, can Alberta actually recruit more nurses?

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, AHS has been able to quickly increase hospital and ICU capacity to meet demand,” said Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO, Alberta Health Services. “This is a testament to our incredible health-care workers and a system that is nimble, fluid, and able to evolve to meet the challenge of an ever-changing virus.

“These additional beds and staffing resources will help us continue to provide the excellent and timely care that all Albertans deserve.”

Click to play video: 'Concerns being raised about number of nurses needed in Alberta' Concerns being raised about number of nurses needed in Alberta
Concerns being raised about number of nurses needed in Alberta – Feb 28, 2022

The government said the location details of the new ICU beds are still being developed but they’ll be “in all AHS zones across the province.”

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“We expect these new beds to come online soon in the coming months,” Copping said.

Read more: Alberta health-care workers desperate for COVID-19 help: ‘We are treading water as furiously as we can’

“One of my top priorities as minister of health is to build capacity in Alberta’s health system,” Jason Copping said.

“While AHS was able to add surge capacity when needed during the pandemic, this is not a sustainable or prudent way to plan for the future. Adding up to 50 ICU beds this year alone, plus other ongoing efforts, will give Albertans better access to the health care they need.”

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Copping says non-ICU hospitalizations in Alberta within normal capacity' COVID-19: Copping says non-ICU hospitalizations in Alberta within normal capacity
COVID-19: Copping says non-ICU hospitalizations in Alberta within normal capacity – Feb 10, 2022

The Opposition stressed there’s a staffing shortage and the UCP is mismanaging health care.

“Alberta hospitals can’t staff the beds they already have,” NDP health critic David Shepherd said. “There are 25 communities in Alberta where there are hospital beds closed and services cut right now due the UCP’s health-care staffing crisis.

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Read more: Two family doctors explain why they’re leaving Alberta: ‘Physicians are just feeling powerless’

“The UCP went to war with doctors, nurses, and front-line health-care workers in the midst of a global pandemic. Families in Lethbridge and southern Alberta have been hit hard, and more than 40,000 people in Lethbridge have no access to a family doctor. A strong primary care system is an important factor in reducing the demand for acute and intensive care beds.

“Any announcement or plan by the UCP to increase staffing in health care is incompatible with their ongoing layoff of 11,000 front-line health-care workers,” Shepherd said.

Read more: UNA receives confirmation Alberta hiring contract nurses to address staffing shortage

A review of Alberta’s response to the pandemic recommended 21 capacity-building actions, with surgical recovery and ICU and acute care baseline capacity as the immediate priorities.

The Sustainability and Resiliency Action Plan’s recommendations touch on workforce; acute, critical care and surgery; primary and community care; governance and decision-making; public health; and modelling.

— With files from Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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