June 17, 2024

Construction now finished, Calgary Cancer Centre handed over to AHS

With construction complete, the hospital has been handed over to AHS to be outfitted with medical equipment

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The massive Calgary Cancer Centre has entered its final phase before accepting patients and ushering in what proponents say will be a transformational battle against the disease in Alberta.

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With construction complete, Alberta Infrastructure on Friday officially handed over the imposing glass and steel structure on the northeast corner of the Foothills Medical Centre to Alberta Health Services, which will now fill its space with state-of-the-art, life-saving equipment and the staff to operate it.

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It’s expected to open in early 2024.

“We have a lot of work to do — we have the keys now but the work really starts from the operational point of view in making sure this is safe, warm and welcoming, and the best cancer centre. It will take many months to do that,” said Dr. Don Morris, clinical department head with AHS.

“The sheer size of the building (is a challenge). It’s more than just the furniture, it’s all the fancy equipment . . . some of our machines take six months to commission.”

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Also a challenge is ensuring the centre is adequately staffed at a time when hospitals across the country are dealing with shortages of health-care workers, said Morris.

“We understand there’s a shortage of staff in Alberta and we’ve already taken a number of steps to increase (medical) seats in post-secondary education,” said Health Minister Jason Copping.

“It’s going to take some time.”

The interior courtyard of the Calgary Cancer Centre.
The interior courtyard of the Calgary Cancer Centre. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

The nearby Tom Baker Cancer Centre, which the new facility will replace, is staffed by 800 people.

The new cancer centre, say AHS officials, will require considerably more staff, but it’s still not clear what that number will be.

“I’m relatively optimistic we’ll have support,” said Morris.

Not so sure is NDP health critic David Shepherd, who said the UCP government hasn’t put out the welcome mat for health-care workers.

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“I am concerned about staffing plans for the centre, especially as the UCP’s chaos in health care has driven health-care workers out of the province,” Shepherd said in a statement.

Construction of the $1.4-billion facility began in 2017 under the previous NDP government, and a year ago was 90 per cent complete.

At 186,000 square metres, it’s expected to be the largest hospital of its kind in Canada and the second-largest in North America.

Minister of Infrastructure Nathan Neudorf gets a tour from project director Maciej Burzynski.
Minister of Infrastructure Nathan Neudorf gets a tour from project director Maciej Burzynski. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

“We are talking about something truly transformational for cancer patients and their families,” said John Osler, co-chair of the group OWN.CANCER, which has lobbied for the new facility.

“Patients will receive tailored, world-class treatment plans that will care for their physical, mental, emotional and social needs under one roof.”

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Patient demand outstripped the Tom Baker Cancer Centre within three to four years of its opening, while many patient services have been scattered throughout the city, said Morris.

Not only will the new centre consolidate those activities, it will be a hub of medical information like few others in North America, he said.

“It’ll be one of the few centres in North America to capture data, we will be an internationally recognized cancer centre,” said Morris.

Work on the site, which has employed up to 1,600 employees at one time, continued during the height of the pandemic and despite a COVID-19 outbreak in May 2021.

A view inside the Calgary Cancer Centre.
A view inside the Calgary Cancer Centre. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

There had also been concerns supply chain issues could delay completion of the project, which at one point was expected to open in 2023.

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But when it opens, it will boast 160 in-patient beds, 15 radiation vaults, research labs and outpatient clinics.

Friday’s handover marks an emotional milestone and reinforcement among those fighting cancer, said a patient advocate.

“The Patient and Family Advisory Council wanted the building to feel like a giant hug. We wanted light shining through the building to help hope float,” said patient and adviser Nashrin Mitha.

“We wanted a building that would house courage, research, state-of-the-art facilities, equipment and, most importantly, a building that felt like a home for all the people that came through its doors. This truly is a labour of love.”

At the same time, OWN.CANCER has embarked on a campaign to raise $250 million to fund research and quality-of-life programs at the new centre.

More than 200,000 Albertans, or about five per cent of the province’s population, are currently living with cancer, and half of Canadians will receive a cancer diagnosis during their lifetimes, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

One of every two Albertans will experience cancer sometime during their lives.

[email protected]

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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