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Alberta to spend $300M on new critical care beds

$100 million of that will be spent this year to create 50 permanent ICU beds
New Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping takes his mask off to give a COVID-19 update in Edmonton, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Alberta’s health minister says the government will spend $300 million over the next three years to add more intensive care beds in hospitals.

Jason Copping says $100 million of that will be spent this year to create 50 permanent ICU beds across the province.

Copping says the COVID-19 crisis, which overwhelmed existing intensive care units, highlighted the need to add more beds quickly.

“It did teach us a valuable lesson. Alberta needs more health-care capacity,” Copping told reporters in Lethbridge Wednesday.

“We need the flexibility to treat those who come into our medical clinics and hospitals, as well as to respond to surges caused by unforeseen events like COVID-19.”

Details of when and where the beds will be set up are being worked out under the direction of Alberta Health Services.

Alberta had 173 intensive care beds before the pandemic 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.

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.

Most of the new money is to go toward hiring staff for the beds and for planning how to redeploy health workers when ICU demand is slow.

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

The spending flows from last week’s proposed 2022-23 budget, which adds $600 million to the health operating budget, a commitment rising to $1.8 billion in 2024-25.

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.

Opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd said Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government faces a credibility gap after belittling nurses during wage negotiations and fighting with doctors over fees and rules during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Thanks to the UCP’s mismanagement of health care, Alberta hospitals can’t staff the beds they already have,” said Shepherd.

“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.

“Albertans cannot trust the UCP with their health care.”

— Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press