Giving Calgary a $137-million hospital upgrade, while the long-delayed Red Deer hospital expansion still awaits funding, makes the province “tone deaf,” to say the least, says a city councillor.
Coun. Vesna Higham objects to any hospital project being prioritized above Red Deer’s, considering the mountain of evidence that shows central Alberta’s regional hospital is grievously short of basic resources to serve an area of 350,000 people.
Like most Red Deer city councillors, Higham reacted with shock and dismay to Wednesday’s surprise announcement by Premier Jason Kenney that the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary would receive $137 million to expand its emergency room and mental health area.
Mayor Tara Veer still hasn’t received the heads up that any good news for Red Deer hospital is coming, although she remains hopeful it could be in next Thursday’s budget announcement.
“The need in Red Deer is beyond critical,” added Higham, who noted the government is fully aware of the chronic bed shortages that require patients to be regularly transferred to rural hospitals to make room for new admissions.
Health officials know local surgeons must work late and postpone scheduled surgeries because of the lack of operating rooms.
And Coun. Ken Johnston pointed out the government is also aware central Albertans are needlessly dying from heart problems at a 50 to 60 per cent higher rate than in the larger centres, because Red Deer hospital doesn’t have a catheterization lab.
Red Deer has historically received about 1,000 per cent less in per capita health-care infrastructure dollars than anywhere else in the province, said Higham, who considers Wednesday’s announcement “unfair,” as well as insensitive to the Red Deer region’s ongoing fight for equitable health care.
“There was already a (funding) gap between Red Deer and other centres. This now makes it enormous,” said Coun. Michael Dawe, who “will be more than furious” if significant money isn’t provided for a local hospital expansion in the provincial budget.
Coun Buck Buchanan said it will be “shame on you” if the government gives other hospitals funding, but not Red Deer’s.
“We don’t need another study… everybody knows we have capacity issues….”
Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said Red Deer is tired of being a “drive-by city,” largely ignored by a government that is currying favour with larger centres.
She feels the Calgary funding announcement, coming a week before the provincial budget, stands to pit regions against each other.
Veer summarized council’s sentiment by saying she doesn’t begrudge Calgarians their hospital project, but sees growing local frustration in the region as the wait lengthens for the provincial government to act on central Alberta’s fundamental health care needs.
The Calgary announcement “certainly elevates expectations” that there will also be positive news about the Red Deer hospital expansion, Veer added.
The cost of the local hospital project is unknown. But it was estimated at about $750 million a few years ago, and would have to be done in stages.
When Red Deer hospital is expanded, local city councillors believe it would take some of the pressure off larger city hospitals, like the Peter Lougheed Centre, and reduce the cost of STARS air ambulance and other emergency patient transfers to Calgary or Edmonton.
A frustrated Coun. Lawrence Lee believes all levels of government need to work together to make the project happen.
He questioned the commitment of local MLAs, saying he doesn’t see them “on the front page of the Advocate” rallying around the hospital expansion as city councillors and physicians have done.
The Calgary funding shows the UCP is “playing to their base,” added Lee, since the party must gain the support of at least one of Alberta’s major centres to win the next election — and Edmonton favours the NDP.
Coun. Tanya Handley remains hopeful something will be in the provincial budget for the local hospital since central Albertans deserve the same standard of health care as other Albertans.
Coun. Frank Wong also expects to see at least money for a 24/7 homeless shelter. But he added getting a shelter won’t help the hospital’s space crunch.