Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced space for 'hundreds' of more continuing care beds had been found in existing care facilities, which operators could apply for funding for through the Affordable Supportive Living Initiative, on Sept. 1, 2020.

The Alberta government says it is beginning to deliver on a promise to expand continuing care options by filling existing facilities which it has found are underused.

All kinds of operators under the province’s mixed system – public, non-profit and private – have been asked to sign up if their community is in need of more beds.

Grant money, through the Affordable Supportive Living Initiative, will be handed out according to need, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Premier Jason Kenney told media on Tuesday.

“We know that it’s at least going to be hundreds of beds in this first phase of the new ASLI 2.0, as it were,” Shandro said.

According to the minister, the government would have no firm numbers as to the number of beds or staff added until operators applied.

Currently, the province has 27,000 continue-care spaces, 16,000 long-term care beds, and 11,000 spots classified as designated supported living.

Alberta Health Services was expected to release a list of priority communities Tuesday the government has already identified as being in need.

“Many of these are smaller communities in rural Alberta where seniors quite rightly want to be able to age in the communities where they’ve lived all or most of their lives,” Kenney said.

The premier and his minister teased an announcement coming later in the year about building new facility space – once existing gaps had been filled.

Every step forward, Kenney said, would be informed by lessons learned during the pandemic.

In Alberta, two-thirds of COVID-19-related fatalities were seniors living in supportive facilities. The average age of a COVID-19 victim in Alberta is 87.

According to Kenney, Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health have updated architectural design requirements since the start of the pandemic, which will be used for future developments.

The changes include a separate staff entrance, better internet service for residents and telehealth service, and smaller group settings of 14 to 18 people to limit exposure.

About 600,000 Albertans are over the age of 65. Government projections place that demographic at 1.2 million by 2046, while the province’s general population grows to 6.3 million.