EDMONTON — Alberta is closing 300 acute-care hospital beds and another 246 at an Edmonton mental hospital over the next three years as the province’s health superboard struggles with a $1-billion deficit.
The move drew an immediate outcry on Wednesday from Friends of Medicare and others who said the beds are sorely needed in overcrowded hospitals.
Stephen Duckett, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, said the acute-care hospital beds would be reopened if the situation became critical or if there were a serious outbreak of swine flu in the province.
“If we need those beds to provide acute care a week or six months or a year from now, we will use them,” Duckett told a news conference.
The plan released by Duckett hinges on 15 private firms completing construction of roughly 800 new assisted-living and long-term care beds, mostly in Edmonton and Calgary.
Elderly patients who are in acute-care beds due to space shortages will be transferred as the new private facilities open, and the hospital beds they leave will be mothballed.
David Eggen of Friends of Medicare called it a shell game.
“Moving funds from public hospitals to private contractors is an attempt to hijack public health care,” he said.
The bed shuffle is expected to save roughly $50 million within three years.
But NDP health critic Rachel Notley said moving people out of acute beds could also result in elderly patients getting less care than they need.
“Assisted living and designated assisted living are not regulated,” said Notley. “There are no staffing requirements.”
“They are not inspected the same way, not governed the same way and do not provide the same level of care.”
Duckett said he has seen people who get stuck in acute-care beds because there’s no other space and it’s not a good situation.
In addition, Alberta Health Services announced that instead of the 150 beds originally expected to be closed at Alberta Hospital Edmonton, the province’s largest mental-health facility, that number has now risen to 246.
The move has been widely condemned by mental-health agencies and others who feared the move would see the most serious mental patients end up on the street.
However, the Alberta Union of Public Employees pointed out that the math doesn’t add up.
“They will be closing 246 beds at Alberta Hospital Edmonton and only adding 150 community beds for mental health patients,” said president Doug Knight.
He said the union is launching a series of television advertisements that will inform Albertans about the consequences of the bed closures.