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Alberta NDP says 400 mothballed hospital beds ready to go; AHS says no

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EDMONTON - The opposition NDP says the Alberta government has 400 hospital beds waiting to go, but won't pony up the money to fund them.

Party health critic David Eggen says documents from Alberta Health Services show that 400 beds are currently closed across the province.

He says the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton has 203 such beds, which are ready for use but need someone to staff and fund them.

Eggen said the number is particularly concerning given that patients are waiting hours to be seen and admitted in hospitals and that lengthy surgery wait time targets are not improving.

He said the solution also lies with the province striking fair wage deals with nurses and other health-care workers in order to make the province an attractive option for those seeking work in the field.

But Alberta Health Services said the beds listed in the document that the NDP is quoting from are beds that are planned for the future.

As well, an official says beds are open based on funding, staffing and demand.

"We need to ensure we place our resources in areas where patient needs are highest," Brenda Huband, interim president and CEO for zones and health operations, said in a statement.

"That may mean that resources are redirected from areas that do not have high patient demand. This is a natural shifting of resources that happens every day."

Huband said vacant beds can be opened as the need arises.

"For example, in Edmonton, during the recent influenza outbreak, we opened 67 surge beds. They are still open. Ensuring we have this additional capacity is good planning," she said.

"We are opening, and will continue to open, new beds. For example, the March 31 document states that 156 beds were unused at South Health Campus in Calgary. All of those beds are now open and being used by patients."

Huband said AHS has also opened six neonatal intensive care unit beds and 48 medicine and mental health beds at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.

"Those beds, which are listed as closed in the March 21 document, are now open and are being used by patients. It is important that we use our health care dollars in the most effective and efficient means possible."

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