Last week a group of Central Alberta doctors went public about the “state of the hospital,” exposing the issues that medical staff and patients face every day at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.
Crowded waiting and emergency rooms, bed shortages and surgery delays and cancellations were just a few on the long list of concerns.
Only five months earlier the same doctors warned that if you had a heart attack in Central Alberta, you had a 60-per-cent higher chance of dying or becoming disabled than if you had a heart attack in Calgary or Edmonton.
A catheterization lab and other cardiac programs could sway the number in the other direction and ultimately save lives. The closest cath lab is a two-hour drive or half an hour flight away.
Some Central Alberta patients, sadly, do not have that kind of time.
Doctors say it is the combination of lack of local access, provincial inequity in program spending and a space crunch that is preventing doctors from doing their jobs and ultimately saving lives.
General surgeon Dr. Paul Hardy said funding for infrastructure and programs in Central Alberta has not kept pace with the rest of the province or population growth. In fact Central Alberta has fallen behind over the past 15 to 20 years.
After the planned expansion for the Red Deer hospital fell off Alberta Health Services’ 2016 infrastructure priority list, doctors began sounding the alarm.
Dr. Kym Jim told the Advocate this was the final straw. He said Central Albertans are not receiving the standard of care that they should receive close to home and are forced to travel to receive it.
Red Deer’s hospital, the only referral centre in the region, is consistently one of the five busiest hospitals in the province. According to an Alberta Health Services needs assessment on the hospital, it is short 96 beds, three operating rooms, and 18 emergency room treatment stretchers.
From the time spent in waiting rooms to the routinely cancelled surgeries, the health-care statistics are staggering if not downright disturbing.
Some 800 people listened to the doctors’ address last week in a standing room only meeting. The interest was so high that organizers were forced to hold another session immediately. It is not surprising. Just about everyone has a health care or hospital-related story, and when doctors speak, people listen.
Calling the doctors “courageous for speaking out,” an emotional Red Deer city Coun. Ken Johnston told the crowded room about how he didn’t know if his wife Isabelle would survive or become another statistic when she had a major heart attack in November. Because Red Deer does not have a catheterization lab, she was flown by STARS air ambulance to Calgary’s Foothills Hospital.
Johnston said it was equally difficult to watch the nurses and doctors who delivered the messages to families time and time again: “Nothing more we can do here. Nothing more we can do here. We have to move your son, your daughter, your uncle, your dad, your mother.”
With the amount of stress that doctors, nurses and other health-care providers already face, why should they have to worry about having the proper equipment and space to do their jobs?
Yet Canada’s health-care system is envied around the world. The expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre is long overdue. It should never have been bumped from the list.
Lives are on the line.
Crystal Rhyno is the managing editor of the Advocate.