January 17, 2011
Patrick Dumelie

Patrick Dumelie


EDMONTON – In response to the city’s aging population, a shortage of beds for the acutely ill, and the closure of Alberta Hospital Edmonton, Covenant Health opened a new geriatric mental health facility Jan. 5.

Villa Caritas is a modern facility that will serve vulnerable seniors with complex mental health and medical needs.

By opening this facility, access to geriatric mental health services in Edmonton increases by 44 beds, a 42 per cent increase.

Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky said the new facility ties in with the provincial government’s “aging in the right place vision,” that of improving health options for seniors by enhancing supports to help them live in the community, rather than shifting them from one institution to another.

With such factors as the burdens on their families, health risks to the person or others, and overall quality of life, the answer is not to institutionalize people immediately in acute care. Rather, they should be cared for effectively in whatever care environment works best.

“Our goal is to make sure that patients wind up as independent as possible, and have as normal a life as possible,” said Covenant Health President and CEO Patrick Dumelie.

“The best place for anybody is not necessarily in an acute-care hospital, whether you’re physically sick or mentally sick. It’s about getting people to recover back to a normal, healthy life.”

The average stay at Villa Caritas is three months, but the term varies, with some staying for as short as two to three weeks.

“The goal of treatment is to help them reach the point where they can go back to a home life environment. But there are people who have an illness that is so complex that they do stay here longer,” said Scott Baerg, senior operating officer at Villa Caritas.


The Geriatric Mental Health Program at Alberta Hospital Edmonton moves to Villa Caritas, at 16515-88 Ave., directly behind the Misericordia Community Hospital.

Dumelie said 90 per cent of the seniors who will be cared for at Villa Caritas have a physical health condition as well. “One of the big benefits of having this program here is that it’s closer to the Misericordia Hospital, which allows access to all of the specialists, nutritionists, internal medicine, and psychiatrists.”

All 106 patients from Alberta Hospital Edmonton will be in the program by the end of January, and beds will open early this year, likely by March.

Patients will have easier access to specialty services, increased timeliness of consults, combined expertise of Alberta Hospital Edmonton and Misericordia Community Hospital staff, and better integration with community resources.

The three-storey, $51.4-million building is designed to meet the needs of patients and their families, and is focused on creating a space that enhances privacy and dignity of care.


The facility has five 30-bed units. Aside from the 300-square-foot rooms with large windows and private bathrooms, Villa Caritas features an on-site chapel and rooms for recreation, life skills, rehabilitation, dining and socialization. The design offers a home-like environment.

Floor tile colours and patterns have purpose. Many dementia patients see the different colours as barriers, and are less likely to wander into the wrong room.

“Every doorway is a different colour, so a person with dementia won’t cross it,” explained Dumelie.

The facility will have nine physicians and 300 staff, half of whom are transferring from Alberta Hospital Edmonton.