The Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation has launched a campaign to draw awareness to the need for government funding for a $1-billion overhaul of the aging central Edmonton hospital.

The hospital, which serves almost one million people each year, has been at the top of Alberta's health care infrastructure priority list for more than two decades.

During that time, three major hospitals have been built or expanded upon in Calgary.

The "Voice of Alex" campaign is a way of letting people know the hospital is due for some upgrades — for the sake of patients and the community, said Dan Manning, chair of the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation board of directors.

"Our intention in launching this campaign is to inform the public of this priority and to highlight the challenges that aging infrastructure cause to patient safety, patient dignity and patient privacy," Manning said.

"This is, without question, one of the hardest working hospitals in Canada."

'This is, without question, one of the hardest working hospitals in Canada.' - Dan Manning, chair, RAHF Board of Directors

The new campaign centres around Alex, a custom-built puppet who acts as the voice of the hospital through blogs and video blogs. Alex is hard-working with a cheeky sense of humour. He's committed to providing the best care possible — despite being a little rough around the edges. 

The Royal Alex hospital has weathered floods, fires and unit shutdowns over the past 20 years, foundation president Andrew Otway said.

The hospital often has to accommodate four to five patients in one room, which poses "significant risks" in terms of infection control, Otway said.

Plans are already made for redeveloping the hospital, he added, but the funding is needed to push them forward.

These plans include constructing a new main hospital tower with an emergency department, an expansion to surgical suites, and creating 800 acute care beds.

Andrew Otway

Royal Alberta Hospital Foundation President Andrew Otway says plans are in place to upgrade the hospital — all that's needed is the government funding. (CBC)

To reach that point, Otway said the first phase would need to be approved. It would include the construction of a new child and adolescent mental health facility; a new clinical services building; upgrades to the utility plant; demolition of aged and unused buildings; and addressing parking challenges.

The total cost of the first stage of development would be more than $1 billion, Otway said.

"We absolutely recognize that this is a significant amount of money. But this cost will only grow as funding continues to be delayed," he said.

"This Phase 1 redevelopment plan represents needs and not wants."