The previously promised $100-million for the first-phase of the Red Deer hospital expansion is coming, says the Alberta government, even though the timeline is unknown.
“To be clear, Alberta’s government remains committed to the full $100 million earmarked for the Red Deer Hospital expansion project,” said Alberta’s Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda Thursday.
“Anticipated cash flows in budget 2021’s capital plan are estimates,” he added, in response to queries from the Advocate about why $59 million was promised to the hospital project over three years in the 2021 budget, while $100 million had been pledged to the hospital’s first phase of redevelopment in 2020.
Panda did not explain over how many years this money would be distributed to an expansion project that has been sought for over a decade.
But he added that Alberta Infrastructure, in conjunction with Alberta Health Services, is doing important planning work on the hospital.
“Extensive planning is probably one of the most important parts in building health project of this size and complexity — especially when we are working within an active treatment facility, where we must preserve ongoing operations and maintain the safety of patients throughout construction,” said Panda.
“There have been slight delays in this planning process,” he added, because of the critical pandemic.
Members of the Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta were pleased the government is standing behind its promise of $100-million for the first phase of the project.
But the lack of a firm timeline for the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre expansion continues to trouble Dr. Kym Jim. He noted, “There is a documented immediate need (for more hospital resources) and there should not be a delay.”
If the full $100-million isn’t coming over the next three years for the first phase of the hospital expansion, he added — then how long must central Albertans wait until the next critical phases of the project?
Jim noted the Red Deer hospital was found to be lacking 96 admitting beds, 18 emergency room beds, three operating rooms and funding for other services, including a cardiac catheterization lab in a 2017 report.
A July 2020 infrastructure report found Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre was not meeting AHS performance targets for emergency room wait times, length of stay, and had longer wait times for surgery. Medical beds were consistently “well over 100 per cent occupancy for a number of years.”
The hospital was also found to be dealing with sicker, higher-need patients as its role as a regional referral centre increases.
“I fear that central Alberta will not be getting all that is needed” said Jim.
“I would like to see a firm commitment from government that we will get those things — as well as a solid timeline” for when the additional hospital resources can be expected, he added.
Both of Red Deer’s MLAs said they were assured that the business case for the hospital project will be completed this spring, with construction beginning later this year.
Panda stressed that Red Deer MLAs Adriana LaGrange and Jason Stephan “have been very clear about the need for this project to proceed, and for its timely delivery. I will continue to work with them and the city to ensure this project meets the needs of Red Deer residents.”
Mayor Mayor Tara Veer, met with provincial leaders earlier this week to get some clarity on hospital funding.
While she was glad the $100 million for the initial phase of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre expansion is intact, Veer still expects provincial officials to provide “a comprehensive update to our community on the status of this imperative project within the next week.”
Red Deer North MLA Adriana LaGrange called this meeting a productive discussion.
“The hospital remains my No. 1 infrastructure priority and I know that Alberta government has not changed its commitment to fund the first phase of this project,” said LaGrange.
Red Deer South MLA Jason Stephan noted that the $100-million commitment is only for Phase 1 of the expansion. There will be subsequent phases requiring further investment, he added.