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More than 100 geriatric patients will move from Alberta Hospital to Villa Caritas starting Wednesday. ((CBC))

Villa Caritas will meet the needs of seniors with psychiatric problems when they start to move there this week, Alberta health officials said Tuesday.

"For us this is about providing care to folks and getting them into a right-care environment where they can be most independent and cared for most effectively," said Patrick Dumelie, the president of Covenant Health, the organization that will run the facility.

More than 100 geriatric patients now at Alberta Hospital will start the move Wednesday, in groups of 15 at a time. All 106 patients should be in the 150-bed facility by the end of the month.  Nine psychiatrists will be on staff, with seven moving from Alberta Hospital.

The $51.4-million Villa Caritas was originally supposed to be a long-term care facility.

In 2009, the province decided to move geriatric patients from Alberta Hospital there instead, which meant an additional $8 million had to be spent on upgrades like tempered glass for nursing stations and fortified security doors. 

"Half the patients have a dementia-type of disorder, like Alzheimer's," said Mark Snaterse, executive director for addiction and mental health for Alberta Health Services.

"But along with that dementia comes behavioural disturbances that make them very difficult to treat in long-term care or continuing-care kind of environments."

The remaining patients suffer from psychiatric disorders, Snaterse said.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees mounted a campaign in the fall of 2009 to keep Alberta Hospital open when the province announced plans to close 246 beds at the psychiatric facility.

While the province backed down on the decision to close some of the beds, the plan to move the geriatric patients to Villa Caritas did not change.

A lack of long-term care spaces in Alberta has been cited as a key factor in creating critical backlogs in emergency rooms in Calgary and Edmonton hospitals.

AUPE president Guy Smith said converting Villa Caritas into a mental health facility takes much-needed beds out of the system.

"It just exacerbates a situation that's pretty critical already," he said.

The province is reviewing what to do with the vacant beds at Alberta Hospital. Smith said the future of the hospital still remains a concern for the AUPE.