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New ICU beds will help address future needs, says premier

Nineteen new ICU beds have opened in Alberta.
MVT stock Jason Kenney
Premier Jason Kenney says the addition of intensive care unit beds in the province means that during future stress points "we will not have to resort to postponement of surgeries to deal with significant pressure on critical care in the province." Photo courtesy of Alberta government

The recent opening of 19 new intensive care unit (ICU) beds in the province will help prevent the need to delay surgeries due to COVID-19 and other emergency events in the future, Premier Jason Kenney said during a press conference Friday.

Alberta Health Services recently opened and staffed 19 of 50 permanent ICU beds supported by $100 million. The remaining 31 beds are expected to open by the end of September.

Of the 19 new beds, nine are in Calgary, five in Edmonton, one in St. Albert, two in Grande Prairie and two in Lethbridge.

“This effort to meaningfully increase capacity is a big boost to Alberta’s health system and part of our promise to add more permanent beds, more staff and more resiliency so that surge capacity doesn’t have to be added during high demand times such as pandemic waves or annual flu when more people typically head to hospital,” said Kenney.

The addition of the new beds “means that in the future should we face particular stress points, be it from COVID, the flu, natural disasters, that we will have that additional baseline critical care capacity, meaning that we will not have to resort to postponement of surgeries to deal with significant pressure on critical care in the province,” he said.

Alberta Health Services has filled 250 positions to support the new beds, including nurses, allied health professionals and pharmacists, as well as clinical support service positions such as diagnostic imaging and service workers, he said.

As well, Alberta Health Services plans to recruit to fill another 425 clinical and support service positions to support the total bed numbers, he said.

During Friday’s press conference, Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping said, “We are moving fast and diligently to add permanent ICU beds where they are most needed. This is outstanding work by AHS to add nurses and medical staff to support these beds that give Albertans access to critical, acute health care when they need it. 

“COVID-19 is still putting pressure on Alberta hospitals, but we’re countering that with a bold plan to ensure our health system is resilient and can respond to any health crisis.”

Following Friday’s press conference, Shannon Phillips, NDP critic for finance, said the UCP has created a “profound crisis” in health care and has not done enough to address severe staffing shortages across the province.

“Today’s announcement will not fix any of the damage Jason Kenney has done to the Alberta health-care system,” said Phillips. “The system is on the brink of collapse and this is why people are lined up outside emergency rooms.

“I think that (Kenney) is trying to blame anyone except himself. The fact of the matter is even is you have these incremental more beds, if you do not have the staff for them or if you are diverting staff from other critical areas in the acute care system, the promise is hollow and ultimate it creates more chaos in the health care system.

“Thanks to Jason Kenney and the UCP, we don’t have enough staff to operate the beds we already have, or the ambulances we already have, or the primary care clinics we already have.”