Decision reversed to close some Alberta Hospital beds

Alberta Health Services has announced it will not shutdown 146 of the 246 acute care psychiatric beds slated for closure at Alberta Hospital in Edmonton.
Alberta Health Services has withdrawn plans to close 146 beds at Alberta Hospital. ((CBC))
Alberta Health Services has announced it will keep open 146 of the 246 acute care psychiatric beds slated for closure at Edmonton's Alberta Hospital.

AHS made the announcement Monday after it accepted the recommendations of an implementation team that was struck in October to look at the health board's planned closure of 246 beds at the 400-bed psychiatric hospital.

Patients in acute psychiatry and rehabilitation will remain at the facility for now. The future of Alberta Hospital will be determined after the AHS comes up with a province-wide mental health strategy. It is not clear how long that will take.

AHS still plans to move geriatric psychiatric patients to Villa Caritas, a 150-bed facility now under construction beside the Misericordia Hospital in west Edmonton.  Villa Caritas is scheduled to open later this year and will be run by Covenant Health.

"All other functions at Alberta Hospital would remain the same pending the outcome of a long-term, long-range look at all mental health needs," said the co-chair of the implementation team, Dennis Anderson, a mental health advocate and former provincial cabinet minister.

Public campaign against closures launched last fall

Monday's announcement is a partial reversal of the bed closures announced last summer. AHS originally planned to close the 246 beds and move patients to community settings over three years.

The decision provoked a huge public outcry.

Families of patients, along with psychiatrists, mental health advocates, public service unions and lawyers mounted a public campaign, using meetings, protests, letter-writing and a series of TV ads to convince the province to reverse the plans.

Alberta's new health minister, Gene Zwozdesky, suggested the original plan may have been misunderstood.

"There was always the contemplation that beds in the community would be ready first," he said. "Now how that got communicated or understood or misunderstood is now a matter of history and a matter of record. The point is that as of today, we have some recommendations that have been arrived at in a very thorough, very joint fashion."

Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, said he was pleased beds will remain open at Alberta Hospital.

"Because of the public pressure, because of the public outcry, because of the work that we've done in a very strong campaign, I think we've convinced them to not close down the rest of the hospital," Smith said.

But he worried about how geriatric psychiatric patients would be affected by a move from a rural setting on the northeast boundary of Edmonton to one of the busiest areas in the city.

Smith said AUPE will continue to monitor the situation at Alberta Hospital to ensure the government makes no further cuts.