Alberta Health Services is hard at work to add care beds and shorten wait times

Alberta Health Services has a mandate to provide patient-focused, quality health care to more than 3.7 million adults and children living in Alberta.

Alberta Health Services has a mandate to provide patient-focused, quality health care to more than 3.7 million adults and children living in Alberta.

Each day, the 90,000 AHS employees and Alberta’s physicians work to provide the best possible care for patients and their families; this is a responsibility that we take to heart each and every day.

In order to address the challenges facing health care in Alberta, it is clear that we need to remain focused on our plans for improvement.

The past week, in particular, has been challenging to many in our organization, and it is time to move on with our strategies for action to provide quality health care for Albertans.

It is clear that there is work ahead to achieve the ultimate goal of becoming the best-performing publicly funded health care system in Canada.

To that end, AHS remains focused on three key initiatives: opening more continuing care beds; reducing emergency department wait times; and adding new capacity.

These are challenging goals, requiring multi-layered, systematic changes and improvements. We are taking immediate action to achieve these goals and we are seeing some early successes.

AHS has committed to opening more than 1,300 new continuing care beds in Alberta this fiscal year. To date, we have opened more than 800 new beds. We are on track to meet our goal by the end of March 2011.

This means that by the end of March, we will have opened new facilities and expanded the number of beds available in communities such as Lethbridge, Cardston, Calgary, Red Deer, Edmonton, and Slave Lake.

We are committed to opening an additional 1,000 beds a year for the next three years.

We have also committed to reducing the pressures in our emergency departments to ensure timely care for those who need it most.

There is no single magic fix to this issue, or we would have implemented that long ago. There are, however, several solutions being implemented immediately.

Opening additional continuing care beds in the community will free up hospital beds currently occupied by Albertans whose health needs would be better met in a long-term care facility or a supportive living environment. Opening more beds in hospitals will also reduce emergency department lengths-of-stay for many patients requiring admission.

We are implementing new surge capacity protocols to provide additional capacity when demand on Emergency Departments and across the health system reaches critical thresholds. When reached, the new protocols trigger immediate actions to reduce wait times.

To support the new protocols, AHS is opening 49 additional beds in Edmonton and 32 in Calgary. This will help ensure that physicians and staff have back-up beds and resources to quickly ease capacity pressures.

AHS is adding about 360 new, fully staffed hospital beds by March 2011. This is in addition to the surge capacity beds, referenced above, which are part of the Emergency Department protocols.

We are also increasing home care spending in an effort to keep seniors safe, healthy and independent in their homes. This will reduce pressures in Emergency Departments.

In addition, we are informing Albertans about their care options. Some health needs are best met in a place other than a hospital emergency department — a family doctor’s office, perhaps, or an urgent care centre.

And finally, we are establishing length-of-stay targets:

Four hours from triage to discharge for patients who do not need hospital admission; and eight hours from triage to bed placement for patients who do require hospital admission.

We have a plan, established by the board, being delivered by management. Central to that plan is the commitment to meet the needs of patients, one at a time. Nothing else is more important to the health system right now than focusing on access and quality, and we are unwavering in our commitment to improve the delivery of health services in our province.

 AHS employees are focusing on the job at hand: to achieve the goals that AHS has established, and to serve Albertans. We will not waver from this clarity of purpose.

Ken Hughes is the board chairman of Alberta Health Services