News / Calgary

Province reluctant to immediately fill acres of empty space at Calgary hospitals: Payne

There is an estimated 35,167 square metres of unfinished hospital space in Calgary that MLA David Swann thinks can be used for detox beds

Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne says more than 400 naloxone kits have been used to reverse opioid overdoses.

Courtesy / Government of Alberta

Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne says more than 400 naloxone kits have been used to reverse opioid overdoses.

Though there’s about 22 NHL-sized hockey rinks of empty space sitting in Calgary’s major hospitals, the province is reluctant to immediately develop it for detox purposes as demand for treatment beds remains high with Alberta’s fentanyl epidemic. 

Earlier this month, Alberta Liberal leader Dr. David Swann urged the government to call a state of emergency over the growing number of Alberta’s fentanyl-related deaths. He suggested empty hospital space could be used immediately to treat more addicts. 

The empty space, known as “shelled in space,” can be developed, “but would require a significant amount of work to make it usable treatment space,” according to Alberta Health Services (AHS). 

The space is enclosed by an exterior building shell, but unfinished inside. 

It also allows for future development to expand services and programs depending on needs, AHS said, adding the practice makes economic sense and saves tax dollars. 

There is currently an estimated 35,167 square metres of shelled in space at Calgary facilities, which includes 7,750 square metres at the Peter Lougheed Centre (PLC), 2,940 square metres at the Foothills Medical Centre McCaig Pavillon, 15,377 square metres at the South Health Campus and 9,100 square metres at Rockyview General Hospital. 

In total, that would equal to about 6.6 NFL football fields.

On Wednesday, MLA Swann again said the government should call a public health state of emergency over the fentanyl crisis. 

He said the shelled space is a good example of resources available that don’t require significant additional spending. 

“It is shocking we have this kind of room for beds and treatment while people are dying on the street,” Swann said. 

However, Associate Minister Payne said the government works closely with AHS to make the best use of the shelled space by addressing needs considered most critical by local communities. 

Though Payne didn’t provide any specific future plans to turn shelled space into detox space, AHS said proposed plans for its future use include a short-stay mental health unit at the PLC. 

Other proposed plans at the PLC include the expansion of the emergency department and ambulance bays, and the development of the hemodialysis unit, laboratory and pharmacy facilities. 

Payne also highlighted the government’s $17 million it spent on addictions treatment, spaces and counselling, an increase of $3 million compared to previous years. 

“We know we’re dealing with a health crisis with fentanyl,” she said. “and we need to work together to combat this crisis.”

There have also been more than 400 reported opioid-overdose reversals via naloxone kits, Payne added. 

“That’s more than 400 families who are not losing a loved one,” she said. 

Detox treatment facts: 

  • Since February, nearly 50 new medical detoxification beds have been opened or announced for communities across Alberta. 
  • Of those 50 new medical detox beds, three new Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act beds were added at Hull Services, reducing wait times to one day from 13 days. 
  • AHS also received a $3 million grant for opioid replacement treatment, which is anticipated to result in an additional 240 people accessing treatment and counselling for opioid dependence.