With the Alberta government unexpectedly ramping up infrastructure spending, a Red Deer hospital advocate expects to see more money for long-awaited improvements.
In February, Premier Jason Kenney pledged $100 million for the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre for construction in 2021, as part of the first phase of improvements to the facility.
Dr. Keith Wolstenholme, an orthopedic surgeon at the hospital, said $100 million was a good place to start. However, that isn’t going to be enough.
Monday morning, Kenney announced a $10-billion recovery plan to get Alberta out of the economic malaise created by the ongoing pandemic and the sluggish oil and gas industry.
The new infrastructure spending plan is 40 per cent higher than what was budgeted in the province’s capital plan for this fiscal year. It includes the largest infrastructure build in Alberta’s history.
“With 40 per cent higher-than-planned spending in infrastructure, I would fully expect the Red Deer Regional Hospital will get more than the previously mentioned $100 million, and this is our start to full redevelopment and expansion for a new tower,” he said.
Wolstenholme said $100 million will ensure a much-needed cath lab for the hospital, as well as provide the facility with additional beds, but it won’t suffice for everything that’s needed.
The surgeon explained the money won’t buy, for instance, expansion of the emergency department.
“It’s going to take a lot more if we’re talking about real expansion of our hospital capacity,” he said, adding the hospital is in need of a new building to fulfill patient needs.
“We’ve crammed patients in every nook and cranny in this current footprint, and we need to expand our footprint at Red Deer Regional Hospital.
“We need hundreds of millions of dollars for a new tower, which will include expanded emergency departments, more hospital beds, more programs and more capacity to get patients in for scheduled surgeries, along with emergency surgeries.”
Finance Minister Travis Toews said project-specific information about the increased infrastructure spending, including timelines, will be available in coming weeks.
“Broadly speaking, we are looking at moving forward some of our infrastructure projects in the upcoming months, so stay tuned,” said Toews, adding he is aware of the importance of the hospital project to central Albertans.
In February, Kenney announced a $5-million commitment in 2020-21 for planning and consultation on the hospital’s expansion.
“The bottom line is construction work will begin on the expansion and the refurbishment of the Red Deer hospital next year, in 2021,” Kenney said earlier this year.
Whether or not the new funding plan will accelerate hospital expansion is not known. Toews said the February announcement still stands and said it underpins the importance of the hospital upgrade.
“But in terms of specific projects, I can’t reveal anything,” said Toews Monday.