Health And Wellness

U of A’s Butterdome to serve as AHS alternate care centre

Athletic facility could provide space for at least 100 beds if needed.

  • December 16, 2020
  • By Michael Brown

The University of Alberta’s Butterdome has once again been seconded into Alberta’s fight against COVID-19.

Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, announced today that Alberta Health Services (AHS) is working with the Red Cross to transform the venerable U of A track and field facility into an alternate care centre should the need for more beds arise.

“AHS continues to take steps to increase capacity and expand the number of acute care and ICU beds that are available,” said Hinshaw during her daily briefing Dec. 16. “Some of these are new beds, and in some cases existing hospital spaces will be made available as patients are moved into continuing care beds in the community.”

AHS previously used the Butterdome as an assessment centre earlier this spring.

Andrew Sharman, U of A vice-president of facilities and operations and executive lead of the university's COVID-19 response, said the facility is still a few weeks away from possible use, but when it is done it will be ready with the 100 beds in AHS’ contingency plan, or more if needed. 

He noted that the sickest COVID-19 patients will remain in hospital, while the Butterdome transformation is purely a precautionary measure and there are currently no plans to staff the facility.

Sharman added there are already close linkages between the university and AHS thanks to the health sciences programs and various cross-appointments, and that the university stands at the ready to help out.

“It’s also about doing the right thing and doing whatever we can,” said Sharman. “Our community is also affected by this.”

AHS issued a statement late in the day affirming the long-standing relationship with the U of A.

“The University of Alberta has been a tremendous partner throughout the pandemic response. The Butterdome served as a secondary assessment centre early in the pandemic, allowing us to safely provide short-term treatment to nearly 2,500 patients. We’re grateful the U of A is willing to once again explore the use of the Butterdome as an alternate care centre, if these additional care spaces are needed.”

The U of A’s history of serving the community during a pandemic dates back to 1918 and the height of the “Spanish flu.” For a month, Pembina Hall was transformed from a student residence and comfortable classrooms to an emergency influenza hospital that would eventually serve more than 300 patients.