Fort McMurray seniors moved to free up beds for expected COVID-19 patients

Moving seniors from hospital in Fort McMurray to care facilities in distant communities to free up beds for COVID-19 patients puts Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott on edge.

Alberta Health Services recently moved three seniors from the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre to Lac La Biche, about 300 kilometres south of Fort McMurray.

Scott said he's worried not only about the increased risk to the health of the seniors, but also increased costs to the family and a lack of clarity on when the seniors can return.

"Our region has been built by the hard work and commitment of our seniors," said Scott in a written statement Sunday. "It's critical that we are mindful to do what is best for them and their families."

Scott said he is aware that moving seniors could be necessary to free up beds, but wants to be assured families and seniors are properly consulted. 

Jamie Malbeuf/CBC

He wants Alberta's health minister to direct the hospital to involve a physician in its assessment of each senior and follow the physician's recommendations. 

A spokesperson for Alberta Health Services, said the seniors were moved only after it was "deemed safe and appropriate." 

Each move was made in consultation with a physician and the senior's family, Kerry Williamson said. 

"It is imperative that we free up space in our hospitals," Williamson said. "We must find this space to make sure our hospitals are not overwhelmed."

Williamson said Alberta will need to free up 2,500 beds across the province for COVID-19 patients. 

"These are extraordinary times, and we are simply unable to provide health care the way we usually do," he said. 

Alberta Health Services will return seniors to their home communities as soon as possible, he said.

As of Monday morning, there were four cases of COVID-19 in Fort McMurray and two in the surrounding Wood Buffalo area. 

Scott was not available for an interview at the time of publication.