Rural leaders remain worried over health facilities

Downgrading health facilities in smaller communities would undermine efforts to boost development in Alberta’s rural areas, say Red Deer County politicians.

Downgrading health facilities in smaller communities would undermine efforts to boost development in Alberta’s rural areas, say Red Deer County politicians.

County Mayor Earl Kinsella said Tuesday if industries don’t find the kinds of services they need in rural municipalities they won’t locate there.

He was responding to a newsletter leaked by Friends of Medicare last week that discussed a plan to downgrade various hospitals in Central Alberta to urgent care centres focused on providing care to those in unexpected, but non-life-threatening situations.

The physician newsletter, dated March 31, also said nursing homes in Bentley, Trochu and Breton would close under the plan.

Premier Ed Stelmach said Thursday the health superboard has rejected the plan, although board members plan to tour Central Alberta this summer to see if there are better ways to deliver health care.

Kinsella does not understand how rural areas are expected to flourish if health services are diminished.

“I don’t understand the provincial thinking in these circumstances.”

Councillor Jim Wood urged the county, especially those involved in economic development, to remain vigilant. It would be a mistake to close hospitals and uproot seniors, he added.

The leaked document suggests hospitals in Rimbey, Lacombe, Ponoka, Innisfail, Castor, Coronation, Consort, Sundre, Three Hills and Hanna could be downgraded.

Regional hospitals would remain in Red Deer, Rocky Mountain House, Stettler, Olds, Westaskiwin, Drayton Valley and Drumheller.

Mayors of small towns have been quick to condemn any move to reduce local health services.

Councillor Penny Archibald the rumours about health-care changes are a big concern.

“Right now the Innisfail hospital is at capacity.” About a third of the patients using the hospital should be in long-term care facilities, she added.

Bentley and Trochu are the two this area use the most, and they’re needed.”

Closing down long-term care facilities leaves elderly couples facing longer trips to visit each other.

“Instead of downgrading I think the people should let the government know it isn’t a downgrade we want, we want an upgrade.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com