As part of an ongoing strategy to reduce hospital emergency wait times, the province announced a new 12-unit Medical Assessment Unit (MAU) at the city’s Rockyview General Hospital.

Set to open this summer, the centre will cost $1.75 million annually and will be staffed by approximately 15 nurses, doctors and other health staff, according to Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky.

“After visiting several emergency departments across the province ... I saw the challenges they are facing and this should help to address some of those challenges,” he said.

A similar 12-to-16 bed MAU is also set to open at an Edmonton hospital in May.

The unit will provide space for patients who need longer care or to be admitted into the hospital, easing wait times in emergency waiting rooms, said Stephen Duckett, CEO of Alberta Health Services.

“This is not the only answer; it’s not that simple. But this is definitely part of the solution and a first of its kind in Alberta,” Duckett said of the Australian-modelled plan.

The province aims to reduce wait times in the next three years for complex cases from 16 hours to eight hours, and 5.6 hours to four for less-complex cases, according to the health minister, but he added it won’t happen overnight.

“We have a congested system,” Zwozdesky said.

Friends of Medicare’s David Eggen finds the province’s plan interesting but said the real issue is a shortage of acute-care beds.

“It’s a good idea to reduce wait times, but really they should be creating more acute-care beds. They are not really solving the problem,” he said.