EDMONTON -- To free up some of the 2,500 beds Alberta anticipates needing for the local peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the province is moving seniors in northern Alberta to a different region.

Alberta Health Services confirmed three seniors were discharged from acute care beds at Fort McMurray's Northern Lights Regional Health Centre to a continuing care centre in Lac La Biche on Friday.

The NLRHC is one of two hospitals – the other being the QEII in Grande Prairie – for which the government is planning alternative treatment spaces in the event their emergency departments breach surge plans.

AHS said the decision to move the elderly patients was made after consultation with their physicians and families, and when it was safe to do so.

"It is imperative that we free up space in our hospitals,” a statement from the agency reads.

"Moving seniors out of hospital and into a more appropriate space will free up beds for COVID-19 patients, while also reducing the risk of those seniors being exposed to the virus while in hospital.”

Lac La Biche is nearly three hours south of Fort McMurray.  

Don Scott, mayor of the R.M. of Wood Buffalo, said he recognizes the necessity to move patients but that he's concerned the moves will negatively impact their health and are being made with as little as two hours of notice. He added there was little clarity as to how and for how long seniors will be relocated.

Scott is asking the health ministry to involve a quality review team and physician assessments and recommendations in any other moves.

"Our region has been built by the hard work and commitment of our seniors, and they are a valued part of Wood Buffalo’s past, present, and future,” a statement from the mayor read.

"During this public health crisis, it is critical that we are mindful to do what is best for them and their families.”

AHS has only said "every effort” would be made to return the seniors to their preferred location.

According to an AHS memo, alternative treatment centres would be open for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms and Influenza-like illnesses.

There were no active cases in the Wood Buffalo hospital as of Thursday.

With files from CTV News Edmontons Bill Fortier