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Alberta

Province adding 50 permanent ICU beds to bring Alberta’s total to 223

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Expanded health capacity to move Alberta forward

Albertans will have more access to critical care beds thanks to a $300-million investment over three years to expand health-care capacity.

Alberta’s government is adding up to 50 permanent, fully staffed intensive care unit (ICU) beds this year alone thanks to a $100-million investment in Budget 2022, an almost 30 per cent increase over current capacity. These beds will expand Alberta’s health-care capacity in order to prevent the system from becoming overwhelmed, a major concern during previous waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One of my top priorities as Minister of Health is to build capacity in Alberta’s health system. While AHS was able to add surge capacity when needed during the pandemic, this is not a sustainable or prudent way to plan for the future. Adding up to 50 ICU beds this year alone, plus other ongoing efforts, will give Albertans better access to the health care they need.”

Jason Copping, Minister of Health

The new ICU beds will be distributed in all AHS zones across the province, with location details currently being developed. AHS will provide the government with a plan on where the beds are needed and how they will become fully operational.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, AHS has been able to quickly increase hospital and ICU capacity to meet demand. This is a testament to our incredible health-care workers and a system that is nimble, fluid, and able to evolve to meet the challenge of an ever-changing virus. These additional beds and staffing resources will help us continue to provide the excellent and timely care that all Albertans deserve.”

Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO, Alberta Health Services

“Our province needs to have the flexibility to meet our current and future health-care needs and respond to whatever challenges we face. It’s great to hear that my constituents may be able to receive more of their care at home, with Lethbridge as the focus for any new ICU beds added in southern Alberta.”

Nathan Neudorf, MLA for Lethbridge-East

A Sustainability and Resiliency Action Plan, created to ensure the health system can respond quickly and proactively to future waves of the pandemic or other health emergencies, recommends 21 capacity building actions, with surgical recovery and ICU and acute care baseline capacity the  immediate priorities. The plan incorporates leading practice and lessons learned from other Canadian and international health systems.

AHS will now formalize a new baseline ICU bed capacity plan that includes detailed reporting mechanisms, appropriate workforce planning, ramp-up strategies and redeployment plans so front-line staff are able to support other parts of the health system when ICUs are not facing pressures.

A surgical recovery plan that builds on the Alberta Surgical Initiative will be announced soon.

Quick facts

  • Prior to COVID-19, Alberta maintained 173 adult general ICU beds in hospitals across the province.
  • The new ICU beds are expected to come on stream in the coming months.
  • EY was contracted to review details of how Alberta’s health system responded to capacity issues during the pandemic, and to compare the practices and lessons learned from other health systems across Canada and around the world. The subsequent Sustainability and Resiliency Action Plan includes recommendations to ensure the health system has the appropriate capacity to respond to potential future waves of COVID-19 and other health situations.
  • The 21 recommended actions in the plan have been developed across six workstreams: workforce; acute, critical care and surgery; primary and community care; governance and decision-making; public health; modelling.
  • A comprehensive review of Alberta’s pandemic response is planned.

Alberta

‘Short-term pain’: Group of Alberta lawyers escalate job action over legal aid cases

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

Alberta criminal defence lawyers are taking another step in their dispute with the provincial government over the amount of compensation paid by Legal Aid Alberta.

Organizations representing lawyers in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and southern Alberta began job action Aug. 8 by refusing to accept certain bail and duty counsel files from legal aid.

The lawyers also began refusing certificates for new cases for the most serious criminal charges, including sexual offences, firearms-related crimes and homicides.

Beginning Monday, they say all services will be withdrawn.

“We’re going to stop taking all certificates. That will include some our prior job actions still allowed us to take certificates for people who are already existing clients and there will be a very, very limited set of circumstances now where our members will do that,” said Kelsey Sitar, vice-president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association in Calgary.

“The default will be: ‘We are just not taking any new work from legal aid until the problem is fixed.'”

Sitar made her comments at a rally in front of the Calgary Courts Centre on Friday that drew about 50 criminal defence lawyers.

A table with a sign reading “Save Legal Aid” offered bake goods for sale. Lawyers carried signs reading “Access 2 Justice Must be Equal.” Another read: “This sign is too small to fit my outrage.”

“This is drastic. I mean, what we were doing up until now is something I know has happened in Ontario before, it did not last long, frankly,” Sitar said.

“I can tell you that none of us want to be out here. We all want to be in there doing our jobs.”

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has said nothing is going to be done until a review of the Legal Aid Alberta administrative system is complete, which is scheduled for next month.

He said any budget changes for legal aid wouldn’t happen until next year.

Sitar said the ministry chose to undertake “an incomplete and, frankly, useless review” at a time when the governing United Conservative Party is about to go through a leadership change.

“So we have to act now and they need to respond now,” she said.

Sitar said she understands the people being affected the most by the job action will be people with lower incomes who need the services to afford legal representation.

“It’s short-term pain right now,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate, but I can tell you that most of the people I’ve talked to on the street who are finding themselves caught up in this understand and are grateful that we’re doing it.”

Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the problem has been growing over the last three years. She said when her party was in power, it committed to additional funding for Legal Aid, but the UCP government backtracked.

“We simply cannot be asking the Legal Aid bar to be doing what we are asking them to do at the rate that we are asking them to do it,” she told reporters.

“We have the lowest funding for Legal Aid in the country. What that means is that we don’t have equal access to justice. It undermines the integrity of our justice system and, overall, it undermines our ability to build a sense of community safety, community security and an overall respect for the rule of law — all of which are important to community health and economic growth.

“It sounds like a niche issue, but it’s not. It actually has knock-off effects to very, very important issues that affect all of us. So, the government needs to come to the table and negotiate decently with these lawyers.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

— With files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary.

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Alberta

‘Kind of like carnies’: International balloon festival returns to High River, Alta.

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By Bill Graveland in High River, Alberta

The windswept prairie east of the Rocky Mountains seems an unlikely spot for a hot-air balloon festival, but the town of High River, Alta., is celebrating the event’s 10th year.

More than 20 brightly coloured balloons — including a pink elephant, a black and yellow bee and the purple and yellow Eye of Ra, named after the Egyptian sun god — took advantage of a lull in the prevailing wind this week to get some up-in-the-air time to mark the opening of the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival.

“We get about 50 per cent of our flights off. Weather impacts us everywhere,” said event director Jamie Kinghorn, who is also a town councillor.

“This is our 10th. We started in 2013 partly because of the flood that happened. I’d been to a number of balloon events and thought this might lift the spirits of the folks in town.”

The town of 12,000 just south of Calgary gained an international profile in 2013 when flooding in parts of southern Alberta caused billions of dollars in damage.

High River was one of the hardest-hit communities. Entire neighbourhoods were under water for weeks.

“I called in a bunch of friends from the balloon community and they knew what happened, so 20 of them came into High River and we put on a balloon festival that was actually amazing for the community,” Kinghorn said.

“That was sort of the first major thing toward recovery after the flood and we’ve been doing it every year since at the end of September.”

Kinghorn said the festival is a boon to local tourism and there’s not a hotel room to be had in town.

He had his first hot air balloon over the city of Calgary in 1988. A year later he was a balloon pilot.

There are 23 balloons participating this year, including some from the United States, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Kinghorn said it’s a pretty small community.

“We tend to meet at various events. We tend to travel. We’re kind of like carnies to some extent,” he said with a laugh.

“We travel around to different cities to different balloon events.”

Alan Davidson, who has been involved in the sport since 1977, is one of the volunteers.

He said those who get involved tend to stick with it.

“The amazing thing is that there are still seven or eight of the people I was ballooning with in the ’70s and early ’80s who are still here at this event,” said Davidson. “They’ve been working with balloons for over 40 years.”

Kinghorn, who is the owner and pilot of the Eye of Ra, was the first balloon in the air Thursday morning after a Wednesday evening flight was cancelled due to the wind.

“My God am I glad we got this off,” he said as the flight came to an end.

The festival runs through Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

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