Alberta government invests fewest health care dollars in Red Deer’s Central Zone, group finds

Group is mobilizing a community campaign for a Red Deer hospital expansion

Central Albertans receive a small fraction of the health care dollars spent in this province, says a group pushing for a local hospital expansion.

The newly named Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta (SHECA) launched its Demand Care campaign Tuesday by releasing some troubling statistics about the amount of money that’s been invested, per capita, on health care infrastructure in the region.

Through a Freedom of Information request, the society number-crunched government spending figures over the last decade and found this region gets roughly 1,000 per cent less in infrastructure investment than the provincial average.

Board member Dr. Kym Jim said from 2008 to 2018 this area only received $228 per person.

By comparison, Calgary received $1,633 a person in health infrastructure investment, and Edmonton received $1,118 per person over the same period. (This doesn’t include projects currently in the building phase.)

Infrastructure spending in the North Region over the last decade was $2,086 per capita and in the South region was $1,513.

So why does Red Deer hospital, the third busiest in the province, get such short shrift — and how did this “massive” spending discrepancy occur, wonders Jim.

Although Premier Rachel Notley recently promised to make Red Deer hospital improvements, Jim doesn’t trust political promises without dollars attached to them.

He wants central Albertans to question candidates running in the next provincial election about their health care priorities and to pressure the government to release the results of a hospital-wide needs assessment, which was completed but never made public.

This would show how exactly many more beds, operating rooms and other resources the hospital is now lacking.

Red Deer hospital deals with the most acute cases, outside of Edmonton and Calgary, yet has not had any new beds in what will be close to 25 years, said Dr. Alan Poole, who finds this “astonishing.”

He believes the province has not grasped the fact that Red Deer hospital serves from 350,000 to 400,000 Albertans — not just the 150,000 who live in the immediate Red Deer area.

Poole feels the massive funding discrepancy could partially be a philosophical decision by the government to make people living in all smaller centres to go to larger hubs, like Edmonton and Calgary, for specialized health care services.

If so, the ground has shifted: Red Deerians expect the same level of care as other Albertans, said Poole, who noted this also doesn’t explain why the funding gap has become so wide.

The released figures shocked Red Deer city Coun.Vesna Higham, who feels “we have clearly reached the breaking point…. I knew we were short of beds at the hospital but this has truly opened my eyes.”

The numbers saddened Coun. Ken Johnston, who lost his wife to a heart condition. His spouse was flown by STARS to Calgary for cardiac catheterization because there was — and still is — no local catheterization laboratory.

She died in Red Deer’s ICU three months later, leaving Johnston wondering if the result might have been different if this treatment was provided sooner, at Red Deer hospital.

Central Albertans expect to travel to the larger centres to catch big-name entertainment acts, he added, but should not be expected to travel to receive basic, life-or-death health care treatments.

Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman noted she will not defend much of the last decade’s spending decisions, since the majority were not made by her government.

Hoffman said her government has invested in the Sylvan Lake Ambulatory Care Centre, which was important to the central zone, as well as other infrastructure unrelated to health care — such as the Hwy 2/Gaetz Avenue interchange.

“We were told by your mayor that that was the No. 1 priority for your community,” said Hoffman.

Premier Notley recently pledged to make the Red Deer hospital expansion a priority if she gets re-elected — which is something no other political leader has done, said Hoffman.

As for the hospital needs assessment, Hoffman said it’s still in draft form, waiting for some gaps to be filled by the clinical services plan. Once completed, it will be presented to the public, the minister added.

Hoffman maintains her government is dedicated to Albertans getting appropriate health care based on need — not proximity to a major centre.

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Dr. Kym Jim. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Dr. Alan Poole. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

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