Nearly 300 acute care hospital beds will be removed over the next three years, the province announced yesterday, in an effort to save cash and reserve space in case of a major outbreak of influenza A (H1N1), also known as swine flu.

The bed closures will result in roughly $50 million in savings, but Alberta Health Services says no layoffs are planned as it struggles with a $1-billion budget deficit.

“We’ve got people on waiting list for services and patients bunked three to a room or out in the hallways — those are the people that should be moving into those vacant beds. They’re saying the beds will be held and not staffed — that’s a problem,” said Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) president Doug Knight.

As the new community living facilities open, elderly patients that ended up in acute care beds because of space shortages will be transferred and the hospital beds will be mothballed.

The new plan follows an announcement earlier this summer that 150 beds are to be closed at Alberta Hospital Edmonton, the province’s largest mental health facility.

Kevin Taft, Alberta Liberal critic for Health and Wellness, says that the cuts to acute care beds will have an impact equivalent to losing a major hospital.

“This is like closing the Misericordia Hospital,” Taft says.

AUPE recently launched a campaign to save the mental health facility. Knight said the group feared more beds would be closed, and the number has nearly doubled.

“There has to be adequate community facilities and adequate staffing,” he said, adding he’s heard rumours on putting patients outside the 150 in basement suites and group homes.

Alberta Health Services has announced a deal with a private operator to open 150 community beds next May for some of the most serious patients.

“We already know some people aren’t getting the treatment they need ... Those are the people who fall through the cracks,” Knight said.

with files from the canadian press

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