Lack of new funding for Red Deer’s hospital draws ire

Those lobbying to expand Red Deer hospital vow to keep up the pressure

A local physician lobbying for expansion of Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre did not mince words when voicing his frustration with Thursday’s provincial health spending announcement.

“I would say (I’m) beyond disappointed. I would say extremely disappointed,” said Dr. Kym Jim on Friday.

“How projects can be ahead of Red Deer that didn’t even exist five years ago is beyond my understanding,” said Jim, head of Internal Medicine at the hospital.

“How can they justify those numbers? How can they justify the dollar differential in per capita spending (in major centres compared with Central Zone).”

Health outcomes are already worse in Central Alberta — cardiac care is just one example. Waiting lists are lengthy in Red Deer, which doesn’t have the flexibility of larger centres with multiple hospitals to shift patients around.

“Today, there are 19 people waiting in emerg(ency) for a bed. There are 25 people on the add list for surgery. Many of those will be bumped until tomorrow.”

As well, programs are lacking closer to home to deal with complex medical problems for Central Albertans.

“I mean it’s absolutely ridiculous what is going on in terms of how Central Alberta is being ignored.”

Efforts to make the public aware of the situation are already in full swing. A State of the Hospital address last month drew 400 people, who had to be divided between two meetings because of the crowd size.

A non-profit society — Friends of Central Alberta Health Care — is being created and a public rally is planned for early June.

This weeks budget disappointment only makes those fighting for more health investment more determined.

“Basically, this increases our resolve to get something done,” he said. “I think the advocacy campaign is going to kick up a notch.”

Another vocal proponent for more local funding, Red Deer surgeon Dr. Paul Hardy, shares his colleague’s view that Central Alberta is getting short-changed.

“We’re disappointed because it’s the continuation of a trend,” said Hardy.

Edmonton is set to receive more than $1 billion in new funding including : $400 million to get a new hospital project started, $520 million fo two new facilities on Royal Alexandra Hospital campus, and $65 million to modernize the Misericordia Hospital.

Calgary will get the $1.2 billion previously promised for a new cancer centre.

“So, per capita we’re again being allotted zero compared to the huge amount of dollars going into Edmonton and Calgary,” said Hardy. “I’m not saying Edmonton and Calgary don’t need more and I’m happy for them.”

However, the needs in Central Zone have been well established. A 2015 needs assessment showed Red Deer’s hospital was short 96 beds, three operating rooms and 18 emergency room treatment stretchers. In 10 years, those numbers increase to 194 beds, seven operating rooms and 33 emergency room treatment/observation stretchers.

Red Deer Regional Hospital also has the unique distinction of being the only major referral hospital in Alberta that serves an entire zone. In the north, they have Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie; in the south, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge and the two big centres have multiple options.

What that means is that Red Deer offers a wide breadth of treatment that has grown considerably. The calibre and diversity of the medical talent that the city has attracted over the last 15 years has been “remarkable,” Hardy said.

As for the latest health budget, even some dollars to bankroll a business case for Red Deer hospital expansion would have been welcomed as an indication that the province recognizes the area’s needs, say doctors.