Red Cross beds part of Alberta’s COVID-19 ‘contingency’ planning: government

EDMONTON — If Alberta’s COVID-19 numbers near the health system’s breaking point, the province will turn to Red Cross for help, the government has confirmed. 

Alberta Health Services has asked the Canadian Red Cross, during talks with the Public Health Agency of Canada also, to set up low-acuity inpatient beds in “non-healthcare facilities” in the province’s two largest cities if the panemic situation ever turns that dire. 

The Red Cross aid could look like a pop-up treatment centre, similar to the one built outside the Peter Lougheed Centre in northeast Calgary earlier this year, the government told CTV News on Wednesday.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said during the province’s pandemic update that afternoon that no arrangement has been finalized.

“(AHS has) begun conversations, but this is not part of our current plans. This is, you know, conversations about a contingency plan, which health officials should be doing,” he told media.

“This is a conversation that was had with Red Cross to understand if that was even possible.”

Canadian Red Cross would not detail what its conversations with Alberta have looked like, but did say it has provided staff to increase surge capacity and set up emergency field hospital services across the country.

According to Shandro, the potential Red Cross assistance is not part of Alberta’s plans to increase its number of acute care beds to 2,250 and ICU beds to 425 in coming weeks.

‘A POTENTIAL EXTREME SCENARIO’

The NDP and Official Opposition’s health critic said Alberta is the only province he is aware of making such an ask. 

“What we know is Alberta is indeed leading Canada in terms of new COVID-19 cases. We have the most problems in our response. We have the worst results currently in our contact tracing. We are at the highest point of crisis to the point that the premier’s former political allies in Ontario are using us as an example of caution,” David Shepherd said Wednesday afternoon. 

“The fact that it even needs to be considered, I think, falls on the lack of leadership and appropriate action — even simple things like a provincial mask mandate.” 

The province’s pre-pandemic ICU capacity of 173 beds has been operating at about 90 per cent in recent weeks.

Overall hospital capacity has hovered around 91 per cent, Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday.

But he rejected the idea that the talks with Red Cross signalled a failure by his government to manage the pandemic.

“It’s a sign of responsible planning on our part for a potential extreme scenario. We were doing the same thing in the spring when we saw places around the world having to convert convention centres into make-shift hospitals,” he said Wednesday.

“In a system with 100 hospitals and 8,500 beds where, we believe, we can dedicate (2,200 to) 2,300 beds to COVID patients …  the reality is we have and can continue to create capacity as we expect, quite bluntly, the hospitalization numbers to go up.”

The province reported 1,685 new cases Wednesday, growing its active case tally to 17,144.

The province has a positivity rate of 9.2 per cent, with 504 people in hospital, 97 of whom are in ICUs.

CALGARY FIELD HOSPITAL BUILT FOR COVID-19 OVERFLOW

The roughly $2-million temporary facility in Calgary, which opened in May, was meant to serve patients with COVID-19 symptoms.

However, it had not admitted a single patient with the disease by late October.

At the time, AHS said it had been able to meet local demands with Calgary’s existing facilities and the field hospital’s beds were being used by emergency room patients.

The Sprung Pandemic Response Facility’s builder, Sprung Structures, has built or is working on similar projects in Ontario and Quebec.

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