Central Albertan’s were urged to join in the fight against hospital bed closures happening elsewhere in Alberta since local hospitals could be next on Alberta Health Services’ hit-list.
“People in Red Deer and area shouldn’t stick their head in the sand and think that they dodged this bullet,” said David Eggen, executive director of Friends Of Medicare before he called on drivers to “honk for health care” at a protest along 49th Avenue near the Red Deer Lodge on Thursday afternoon.
Many drivers hit their horns and waived as they passed about 85 Alberta Union of Provincial Employee members wearing placards denouncing Alberta Health Services’ plan to close 350 acute care hospital beds and 246 psychiatric beds over three years at facilities in Calgary and Edmonton.
On Wednesday, AHS announced that a deal was made with 15 private operators to create about 775 new “community care spaces” for hospital patients, like seniors, who would be more appropriately served in supportive living and long-term care facilities.
A private operator is to open 150 community beds next May for some of the most serious mental patients.
“What we saw yesterday is the beginning of a diabolical plan, quite frankly, to take money from public health care facilities and give it to private contractors to build private facilities in the community,” Eggen said.
“We have a big problem with that and I think that the people who actually deliver health care have a big problem with that too so we’re here in support.”
The AUPE launched a Save Alberta Hospital campaign when government said 150 beds would close at province’s largest mental-health facility. On Wednesday that number increased to 246.
“Pulling a facility of that size will affect everyone in the province,” said AUPE president Doug Knight about the hospital that serves the entire province and Northern Canada.
“The safety of the public and the clients will be in jeopardy if these people fall though the cracks end up on the streets, definitely.”
And Knight said the serious lack of acute care beds will only get worse.
“We’re going to have a lot of beds that are needed by active care patients. They are laying out in the hallway now or on waiting lists for surgery or bunked three to a room with no call bells,” said the president of the union representing 36,000 public, private and not-for-profit health care workers.
Minister of Seniors and Community Supports Mary Anne Jablonski, said most of the 350 acute beds will be held for a health crisis like a pandemic, but 40 beds in Calgary will be used for emergency care and 20 beds in Edmonton.
The public understands seniors who don’t need medical care in hospital will be better served in community care. Psychiatric community care, with proper security for the safety of both patients and the community, will also focus on the patient, she said.
“We’re working the best we can to ensure people receive the care they need in the right places,” Jablonski said.
Eggen said rural communities have avoided cuts so far because they “pushed back” when ambulance service to hospitals was threatened earlier this year.
“I think people speaking out against cuts to public health care does have an effect.
“We will resist (bed closures) in Edmonton and Calgary and be prepared to do so here in rural Alberta too.”