Patients waiting for additional rehab or placement to a long-term care facility won’t be able to stay in a transition centre at the Royal Alexandra Hospital after the end of February, as the province announces the unit is closing.

The Medicine Transition Unit at the Royal Alexandra Hospital was originally opened in 2010 as a way to alleviate capacity pressures.

Mike Conroy, senior vice president for Alberta Health Services’ Edmonton zone, said the unit was always meant to be temporary.

“This is a planned closure given other capacity options in the community,” Conroy said.

Conroy says the 30-bed transition centre was meant to act as a bridge, until the province was able to increase capacity in continuing care.

“There were many more options now than two years ago. We’ve improved there. We’ve improved in terms of patients moving through their acute care stay. That’s improved (and) emergency department congestion is down,” he said.

About 41 workers – including licensed practical nurses and nurse aids – will be affected by the unit closure, but Conroy says they won’t lose their jobs, rather the province will find them work elsewhere.

'At no point did we think it was going to be a temporary solution'

But Friends of Medicare says the unit closure is a cause for concern, and says the unit was never meant to be temporary, despite what Alberta Health Services is saying.

“At no point did we think it was going to be a temporary solution, otherwise they would have said it at the time, but they didn’t,” said Sandra Azocar with Friends of Medicine.

“This was supposed to be a solution, it was presented as such and it was funded as such.”

Friends of Medicare believes the cut is part of the province’s efforts to balance the budget.

“Whoever is making the decisions here is not thinking long term, they're just thinking ‘how can we make these books look better for the upcoming budget?’” Azocar said.

Conroy insists the move to cut the transition unit is not about the upcoming budget.

“(We’ve) added 600 continuing care beds over two years, we’ve added 30 acute care beds at the Royal Alex, over the last six months, we’ve added acute care beds at the university, that’s been an incredible investment. So it pales, the investment compared to the savings of this change,” he said.

The unit was opened in 2010 as part of the province's "Medical Assessment Unit."

Seven initiatives were rolled out to deal with increasing demands at the time, including the transition centre, which was housed in an older area of the hospital.

Now the unit is expected to close on Feb. 28.

Conroy says patients won’t likely notice the closure.

“We’ve been reducing the number (of beds) since the fall,” he said.

“Patients will be offered priority placement at an array of community options that meets their needs.”

Friends of Medicare hope the province reverses the closure, or shows real plans to address continued problems in long-term care.

“We were told yesterday that they had replaced the beds somewhere else in the system, we haven't seen any evidence of that. We still have way too many people waiting for quality care,” Azocar said.