Dozens of Albeta health care facilities lack fire sprinklers

This story was reported in today’s Calgary Herald:

[ http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/politics/Dozens+Alberta+health+care+facilities+lack+fire/10081026/story.html ]Dozens of Alberta health-care facilities lack fire sprinklers

BY DARCY HENTON, CALGARY HERALD JULY 31, 2014

EDMONTON — More than 80 health-care facilities in Alberta, including three rural hospitals and 10 health centres, are not equipped with fire-suppression sprinklers and another 50 only have sprinklers in some areas.

Documents obtained from Alberta Health Services under a freedom of information request reveal a number of facilities aren’t equipped with full fire suppression systems — from small four-bed rural health centres to 100-plus bed urban mental and acute-care hospitals.

Alberta Health Services spokeswoman Colleen Turner said the findings are the result of a review completed in the wake of the fire in a Quebec seniors facility earlier this year that killed 32 residents.

“We have identified facilities that need new sprinkler systems or system upgrades and we are working with the government of Alberta on this issue,” Turner said in an email Wednesday.

She didn’t, however, provide details about AHS plans to address the issue, other than to say that when sites undergo major renovations, they are brought up to current standards.

Turner noted AHS continuing-care buildings have emergency plans in place, including plans for the event of a fire.

Tammy Leach, CEO of the Alberta Continuing Care Association, said all continuing-care facilities should be equipped with sprinkler systems throughout the buildings.

“Absolutely, the ACCA supports sprinklers in the facilities,” said Leach.

The province says the cost of renovating the continuing-care facilities is approximately $60 million.

Health Minister Fred Horne was not available for an interview, but said in a written statement the Quebec fire showed “that we need to go further” in ensuring fire safety.

The government has begun to evaluate how the continuing-care facilities can be upgraded with sprinklers over time, he said.

“Factors include the needs of individual buildings, costs and the relocation requirements for the seniors that live in these facilities who would be affected by lengthy construction in their homes, as well as possible legislative and regulatory changes,” said Horne.

“Work on this plan is well underway.”

The AHS documents revealed hospitals in Sundre, Vegreville and Mundare have no sprinklers.

Neither did health centres in Bassano, Killam, Boyle, Edson, Whitecourt, Lac La Biche, Edson, Cardston, Breton and Lamont.

Liberal critic Dr. David Swann said he was shocked the province’s most vulnerable people, including those with mental and physical disabilities, would be housed in facilities without fire-suppression systems.

“They have been abandoned,” he said. “This has been a travesty of governance.”

Swann said the PC government is so distracted by issues such as bonus payments and severances, and choosing a new leader that it has failed to act on critical priorities.

NDP critic David Eggen said installing sprinklers in hospitals and other health-care facilities must be put at the top of the government’s priority list.

He said the tragedy in Quebec has focused a critical eye on the issue and the PC government must come up with a plan to ensure patients in care facilities are safe.

“Without sprinklers you create a death trap.”

Wildrose critic Drew Barnes was also concerned about the fact most of the health centres and hospitals that aren’t equipped with sprinklers are in rural areas.

“At a time that we have record royalties and record revenues in the province, it to me is beyond belief we can’t put this on a priority list.”

[ mailto:dhenton ]dhenton

Dave Cournoyer
Communications Advisor
United Nurses of Alberta
Website: www.una.ab.ca
Office: 780 425 1025
Mobile: 780 913 1563

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