With the partial opening of the South Health Campus expected in Calgary this summer, the big question on many critics’ minds is whether it will be properly staffed.
To staff it, Alberta Health Services says it may have to shuffle doctors and nurses from within the system.
Some say that could create shortages at existing medical facilities not only in Calgary, but the whole province. The head of the nurses union expects the new hospital to require 1,000 new registered nurses.
"Nurses have the ability, from Milk River to High Level, to apply and bid for jobs because we are a province-wide health region," said Heather Smith.
Further complicating matters is an aging workforce of nurses getting ready to leave the system.
"We have concerns about numbers right now. We have 1,100 registered nurses, or one-tenth of them, who are over 51 years old," said Dianne Dyer, president of the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta. "And they're starting to say they plan to retire in 2012."
No staffing concerns: Horne
Alberta's health minister says there will be enough doctors, nurses and other staff on hand as the 300-bed facility starts seeing patients.
"I've been assured a number of times that no, there isn't a concern with staffing at this point," said Horne. "Again, it's a phased opening so staffing up is also a phased approach. I've actually been told it's the destination facility to work in for our healthcare providers."
Horne says the hospital worth $1.3 billion is on budget and will open in phases, starting this summer.
"You can appreciate with a facility of this size, you can't actually have everything move in and start at once," he said. "So the first phase will be the family outpatient clinics, which will be opening in the summer and that will be followed by the emergency department in the fall and the whole hospital will be up and running by April of 2013."
As the largest group of health care professionals, nurses are considered to be the backbone of Alberta's medical system. But nurses are in short supply and the situation is expected to become worse.
Third-year nursing student Tyler Hume has extra motivation to hit the books. Right now, over 200 job openings for nurses exist in Calgary.
"We know that if we want to stay in Calgary, we will be able to," he said.
Nursing schools, like Mount Royal University, say phones are ringing off the hook.
"It's pretty positive right now, I get calls in terms of how many graduates we have coming out and when they'll be available," said Lynn Judd, chair of the nursing program at Mount Royal University.
The number of registered nurses working in Alberta rose from the year 2006 to 2009.
However, a new report published Thursday afternoon — shows the number of nurses actually fell by more than 700 from 2009 to 2010.
Findings also show, since 2006, Alberta is the only province in the country that saw its population growth outpace the increase of nurses working in the province.
The figures all reinforce the fact Alberta needs more nurses now and even more in the future.