09/06/2012 01:44 EDT | Updated 11/06/2012 05:12 EST

South Health Campus In Calgary Partially Opened By Premier Alison Redford


CALGARY - Five years after its groundbreaking, Alberta's largest hospital is officially open — sort of.

Premier Alison Redford was on hand Thursday for the official opening of the $1.3-billion South Health Campus in Calgary.

But so far only the diagnostic imaging and family clinics are open to patients.

Redford says the 300-bed hospital won't be fully operational for at least another six months.

"We have a lot of work to do and there's still a lot of people who still need to become part of this building. Today the South Health Campus begins serving Albertan's health needs through family care clinics and through diagnostic imaging," Redford said.

"The emergency department will open as soon as possible next year, followed by these operating rooms, acute-care beds and intensive-care beds," she added.

"The maternity unit and neo-natal intensive care will open in 2013 as well and that's important because it allows everyone living in this city and in this region to know they can have confidence in an integrated approach to health care."

Redford announced the opening of 140 new family care clinics as a major policy plank during the Alberta provincial election earlier this year.

The clinics, like primary care networks, will use teams of medical professionals to treat patients so as to avoid clogged emergency wards.

"South Health Campus marks a step forward for patient care in Alberta. It redefines the way that health care is delivered by integrating technology, research, education and a core emphasis on wellness," said Stephen Lockwood, the new chairman of Alberta Health Services.

"The campus will be a major referral centre for all of southern Alberta and by late 2013 we expect to have a capacity to treat approximately 200,000 outpatients annually and that's an awful lot of people in my mind."

The original price tag for the project was in the $600-million range.

The government says the new facility is Alberta's largest hospital with a footprint roughly the same as Chinook Centre, which is Calgary's largest shopping mall

Recruitment is underway for the 180 physicians, 900 nurses and nursing support staff, 600 allied health and support staff and 900 facility support staff that will work on the campus.

The opposition Liberal Party called the opening another "photo op".

"I don’t think Albertans want to see another picture of Redford and her crew standing in front of an empty hospital,” Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, who is a medical doctor, said in a news release.

"They want a government that follows through with their promises of reduced ER wait times, and a place for their families to get world-class care."

Sherman said the project is way over budget and one of the "poorest examples of health infrastructure planning to date."