Alberta Health Services has committed to adding a total of 1,300 new beds in the province by the end of March 2011.

Alberta health officials say dozens of new transition beds in Edmonton and Calgary should help ease lengthy emergency room wait times.

On Saturday, Alberta Health Services took members of the media on a tour of a new 15-bed transition unit at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.

The new unit is for patients who are waiting to move into long-term care facilities, and those who no longer require acute care.

"Up to 10 to 15 per cent of our acute care capacity is actually blocked by seniors who should be in a better place, and this actually works as a bridge to that," said Alberta Health Services acting CEO, Dr. Chris Eagle.

"That's where the largest bottleneck is, but the thing that causes this is that people can't get out of the emergency room department just because the system is backed up and blocked, and this is one simple way of improving that situation."

Five more beds will be added to the Royal Alexandra transition unit within the next week or so, with an additional 29 expected to open by 2011.

Officials say another 32 transition beds will open in Calgary in the first quarter of 2011.

"It can take two to three years to build a large long-term care centre and we found in   Edmonton and Calgary we just can't bring that capacity in place fast enough," Eagle said.

"This is a very good way of using the capacity that is already built, modifying it a little bit and making it effective for seniors by changing the environment … so it's a reasonable place for them to be while they're waiting for the proper capacity area to come."

Alberta Health Services has pledged to open a total of 1,300 new beds in the province by the end of March 2011, and an additional 1,000 new beds each year for three years after that.