While the provincial government mentioned in its throne speech Monday, March 18th that expanding Red Deer’s hospital and adding a cardiac catheterization lab are actions it is committed to going into the legislature’s fifth session, groups and individuals fighting for these changes say more action and details are required.
Dr. Kym Jim, a board member with The Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta, said mentioning Red Deer’s hospital in the Throne Speech rather than as an election promise is positive.
But he said the provincial government has not been specific enough on what needs to be done. He said the hospital needs infrastructure development ASAP.
“The hospital in Red Deer needs to have a significant infrastructure enhancement and that wasn’t specifically spelled out,” he said.
“We are very pleased to see the commitment to cardiac catheterization and we are pleased to see that there were comments made to program expansion, but what is lacking is a statement saying that the Red Deer Regional Hospital is going to proceed with infrastructure enhancement and any details around that enhancement.
“I think it is vital that the Needs Assessment be released by the government so the citizens of Central Alberta can see what exactly is needed.”
He added that during the election period, the group would also like to see all political parties make a commitment to the hospital’s needs.
And the clock is ticking.
“Even if things started happening today for such an expansion we’re in the range of 25 years for a new hospital bed in Red Deer,” he said.
“So the last hospital expansion was completed in 2oo3 and if you believe that it takes eight years that they talk about from the time they get the go-ahead to roll with the planning and deal with everything that needs to be dealt with, then it’s an eight-year proposition.
“That is pretty unacceptable because this is the busiest hospital outside of Edmonton and Calgary and one of the most acute hospitals in the province, meaning it deals with the sickest patients.”
Red Deer City Coun. Ken Johnston called the mention encouraging but said there is frustration that the needs of the hospital have been recognized at the provincial level yet no funding has been allocated.
He said funding allocation will lead to tangible results.
“In a way that says, ‘We have you slotted, for example, for capital expansion in 2020 or in the number of X dollars or from 2020 to 2025 — that’s when it gets very tangible and we can actually start planning,” he said.
Johnson said he believes that whichever party is elected will understand the importance of the needs for the hospital because of the years of advocacy carried out by local doctors and politicians in the region.
“Every party has hospital care at the top of their list and that has come from a very grassroots community effort. Plenty of petitions. Lots of emails. Lots of phone calls. Lots of public speaking. Lots of town halls.
“All of those things have happened because people are being affected every single day in a negative, stressful way by the current shortfall of health care in Central Alberta. So that’s where it has come from and that’s why I am optimistic.”
Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel said it was great that it was announced but like all politicians, he questions why it wasn’t in the budget four years ago.
He said it’s ridiculous that nothing has been done so far.
“The Red Deer hospital has been needed for quite a while and the Needs Assessment, as I understand, has been done for a while. If you have to stiff-arm the leadership of the party that you need a hospital in Red Deer, that’s a bit surprising.
“I would have thought that would be a pretty easy step given that Red Deer is a community that services about 400,000 people and it has really a substantial draw for servicing. It is something that has been needed for quite a while.”
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said that over the past couple of years Red Deerians, Central Albertans and people residing in the Central Zone have elevated concerns about the much-needed infrastructure expansion of Red Deer’s hospital.
“Obviously it’s welcome news for it to be acknowledged and we look forward to the Needs Assessment being publicly released. I would suspect that the numbers speak for themselves and regardless of who forms the next government, the expectation is that the Red Deer Regional Hospital expansion will proceed and will be funded in the interest of the health and wellness of people living in Central Alberta.”
-With files from Carlie Connolly