Alberta eyes more operating rooms, contracts with private clinics for surgeries

CALGARY — Alberta’s health minister says he aims to make the province a national leader on meeting surgery wait-time targets by building more operating rooms and using more private clinics.

Tyler Shandro says the goal is to have 80,000 more surgeries done over the next 3 1/2 years.

“We’re going to have the best access to scheduled surgeries in Canada,” Shandro said Tuesday at the Southern Alberta Eye Centre in Calgary.

“This is an ambitious plan that is going to take a lot of work because the reality is we’re very far behind.

“We weren’t meeting the targets in 2014, before the last provincial election, and we’ve slipped straight back for the last four years.”

Shandro said the government wants to meet medically recommended deadlines for all scheduled surgeries, which for nearly 80 per cent of them are four months or less.

Some 300,000 surgeries are performed in Alberta each year.

Shandro said there are 70,000 Albertans in line for a procedure, and 20,000 of them have been waiting for more than four months.

Shandro said the plan involves boosting work done by Alberta’s 42 private clinics, which handle knee and hip replacements, cataract removals and routine procedures and day surgeries.

The bill is paid by the provincial government under medicare.

The clinics, mostly in Edmonton and Calgary, handle about 15 per cent of surgeries.

The clinics are underutilized and have room to grow, said Shandro, who added surgeries there can be done cheaper than in hospitals because of lower overhead and labour costs.

“We need them (the clinics) to be at full capacity.”

Another benefit is that clinic surgeries will free up hospital beds and space in operating rooms, which the province is also looking to expand.

Geoff Williams, a surgeon at the eye centre, said redirecting patients to clinics makes sense. He said he has seen patients with serious issues such as heart attacks be sent away from hospitals because beds were full, some with people awaiting routine operations like fixing detached retinas.

“Many of our patients are healthy and therefore they don’t require full hospital admission,” said Williams.

NDP health critic David Shepherd said Alberta should focus on funding public health care.

He said the more money goes to private clinics, the more resources and staff will leave public services and, ultimately, the field will tip toward those who can pay for faster or better service.

“It’s important we address the key issue of wait times, but we’ve yet to see evidence … that this (private clinic model) in fact improves those wait times compared to investing those resources in our public system.”

Shandro said funding for the wait-time initiative is still being developed and will take its cue from a third-party review on health-care delivery that is to be delivered to the government before the end of the month.

Alberta is spending $20.6 billion this year on health. It is a one per cent increase from the previous budget and represents 43 per cent of total government operational spending.

The funding increase does not match population growth or inflation, and Alberta Health Services has warned nurses and hospital support workers that there could be hundreds of layoffs.

The province has also passed legislation allowing it to tie billing privileges for new doctors to rural areas where service is lacking.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 10, 2019.

— By Dean Bennett in Edmonton

The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cautious optimism for Red Deer real estate market in 2020

Some Red Deer realtors are cautiously optimistic about the local housing market… Continue reading

Snow and freezing rain expected in Red Deer

Brace yourself. Environment Canada expects periods of snow, mixed with freezing rain,… Continue reading

Red Deer dental duo returning to Ethiopia to help kids

Dr. Ivan Hucal and Melanie Bott hope to create ‘ripple effect’ of kindness on expedition

Order in: Red Deer residents chose Uber, Skip the Dishes during deep freeze

Red Deer’s public transit service saw decline in usage during January’s cold snap

New snow clearing triggers in effect in Red Deer

Residents encouraged to sign up for alerts

WATCH: Canadian kid shovelling snow video goes viral

Rory might just be Canada’s most popular toddler right now, thanks to… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Jan. 22 Downtown House Senior Center (5414 43 St.) in Red Deer… Continue reading

Taylor Swift reveals her mother has a brain tumour

NEW YORK — Taylor Swift has revealed in a new interview that… Continue reading

How can you make healthy food resolutions really stick?

For many of us, January is all about giving things up: Maybe… Continue reading

Lineups outside grocery stores in St. John’s as state of emergency hits Day 5

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Residents of St. John’s, N.L., were lining up… Continue reading

Prison watchdog decries ‘Indigenization’ of Canada’s correctional system

OTTAWA — Canada’s prison ombudsman says disturbing and entrenched imbalances mean the… Continue reading

Parks Canada says no to gondola proposed from Banff townsite to Mount Norquay

BANFF, Alta. — Parks Canada has rejected a proposed gondola to take… Continue reading

CFL reaches co-operative partnership agreement with Brazilian federation

TORONTO — Add Brazil to the CFL 2.0 initiative. The league announced… Continue reading

David Marsden: Warm tales about the cold

The recent deep freeze has rocked all of us. Every Red Deer… Continue reading

Most Read