19 of 50 new ICU beds announced in Alberta budget already open, staffed: Premier Kenney

Premier Jason Kenney says 19 of the 50 new ICU beds promised in Alberta’s spring budget are already open and staffed in hospitals across the province.

In the 2022 budget tabled earlier this year, the province committed $300 million over the next three years to open and staff 50 new permanent ICU beds across Alberta to help build frontline health-care capacity.

Read more: Alberta adding up to 50 ICU beds to health system this year

In an update at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre Friday morning, Kenney said the new beds will help add capacity to Alberta’s strained health-care system. He said while the system was strained before the COVID-19 pandemic, the last two years showcased that the Canadian health-care system does not have adequate capacity.

“Period. Full stop,” Kenney said.

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Kenney said the additional 50 baseline permanent ICU beds is the largest increase Alberta’s health-care system has ever seen.

Health Minister Jason Copping said the 19 new beds are located in Calgary, Edmonton, St. Albert, Grande Prairie and Lethbridge.

Dr. Dan Zuege, clinical department head of Critical Care Medicine Calgary, said during the height of the pandemic, Alberta Health Services went through a “herculean effort” to increase its capacity from 173 beds to 376 beds.

Currently, Zeuge said Alberta is operating 212 general ICU beds across the province, which includes the 19 beds announced Friday and 20 surge beds. Of those 212 beds, 162 are full.

“The addition of 50 new spaces to our baseline capacity is wonderful news,” Zuege said.

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Read more: Alberta doctors say province needs to do more than expand capacity

Copping said AHS has committed to opening the remaining 31 ICU beds by September.

“Our hospitals are under real strain right now,” Copping said, adding many in Calgary and Edmonton are running at over 100 per cent capacity. “The system needs more capacity.

“The pandemic is obviously a big factor in the surge of patients we are seeing right now.”

Copping said getting past the current wave of COVID-19 will help ease pressures and get things back to normal, but also added the “normal we had before, quite frankly, wasn’t good enough.”

While adding beds is one thing, both the premier and health minister admit they’re nothing without the staff that keep the beds in operation.

“The big challenge is staff,” Kenney said.

Read more: COVID-19: 70 new deaths reported to Alberta Health as hospitalizations drop

Copping said AHS continues to hire critical-care staff needed to operate the beds, the majority of which have been pulled in from other areas of the hospital system.

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He said about 90 per cent of the nursing grads in Alberta last year have already been hired. In addition, AHS is working with students to bring them into the system for real-life work experience.

Dr. Sid Viner, vice president and medical director of clinical operations with AHS, said a program is also being created to train health-care aids specifically, who are very much needed across Alberta.

In addition, AHS is working to train and get credentials for internationally trained people living in Alberta.

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