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GRANDE PRAIRIE, ALTA – It’s been 10 years in the making, but the Grande Prairie Regional Hospital (GPRH) will open its doors December 4th.

As of 6 a.m. that day, QEII Hospital will no longer accept patients; those that are there will be transferred to the new facility in 13-16 EMS vehicles. The transfer operation is expected to take approximately 18 hours to complete, said Candice Edey, Alberta Health Services (AHS) operational lead for GPRH.

AHS has partnered with the City of Grande Prairie to ensure that the route is well maintained and that any snow is cleared.

Edey said many crews will be involved in the move to ensure everyone’s safety, with specialty crews including advanced life support on site to transfer ICU patients.

Though the opening of the long-awaited facility is welcome news, concerns about staffing the expansive hospital persist.

“We’re doing our best in terms of recruiting staff,” said Stacey Greening, AHS senior operation officer for Grande Prairie and area.

“There’s global shortages for healthcare providers right now, and that’s not unique to Grande Prairie.”

In July, Grande Prairie nurses raised the alarm that beds were closed in the QEII due to staffing shortages. They questioned how the region would staff the new larger hospital when it couldn’t staff the current one.

Greening said that the new construction has helped with recruitment as people want to work in the new facility.

“We’re going to continue to recruit,” she said. “No hospital gets to an endpoint for recruitment.”

AHS took possession of the $850 million facility in July 2020 for commissioning and staff training.

The hospital broke ground in July 2011 and was plagued with multiple construction delays.

Though some have voiced concerns about equipment ageing out as the facility took longer than expected to build, Greening says equipment wasn’t brought in until after the keys were handed to AHS.

“Most of the equipment is new and so we are moving some of our equipment over from the QEII, but it’s the equipment we’re currently using,” she said.

“This was a long construction project; however, we do believe it’s going to be worth the wait,” said Greening.

She noted that the addition of a mental health unit and other additional medical units happened after AHS took possession last summer.

Greening says some of the key enhancements to the GPRH are the pediatric and youth mental health focus, 11 operating rooms, and cancer care with radiation treatment.

The new hospital will be the fifth hospital in the province to offer radiation therapy. Previously, patients had to travel to Edmonton for radiation treatments.

The new hospital has made many considerations for patients and their families: In-room couches that convert to beds, family rooms for overnight stays, as well as spacious waiting areas with multiple charging ports for electronics.

“(It’s) that recognition that the patient is not just one person, it’s not just the person that’s seeking care that it’s about that family perspective, as well,” said Edey.

“I anticipate because we’re a new facility, we’ll see a few more people wanting to access care here,” said Greening.

She said that the typical volume of patients they see in Grande Prairie is about 11,000 inpatient visits, 65,000 emergency visits and about 12,000 surgeries per year.

The GPRH was built to be ready to grow, Greening said.

“Our emergency department is built out to accommodate 120,000 visits a year, so lots of growth opportunity in this facility,” she noted.

GPRH will have 243 beds compared to the QEII’s 163 beds.

The QEII will remain open, hosting continuing health care services such as dialysis and Mackenzie Place for continuing care.

Greening also said that the former hospital would be looked at to see what other services it can bring to the community.

Greening acknowledged the challenge in limiting the opening celebration of the new regional hospital with the community. She said AHS intended to have open houses but was unable due to the pandemic.

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