STETTLER — A gathering for the announcement of a provincial grant to expand Internet service in East Central Alberta on Friday abruptly turned to criticism about the lack of rural hospital beds.
Premier Alison Redford attended the event at Stettler Town and Country Museum to help announce a $111,975 Final Mile Community Program grant that will add three more tower sites and install broadband network equipment in the Special Areas rural municipality east of Stettler.
But Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman used the opportunity to publicly remind the premier that her government has failed to re-instate acute care beds in Consort.
“It’s frustrating. I appreciate technology, but technology is only part of a community, a society. You can’t get health care from the Internet,” the MLA for Drumheller-Stettler told the Advocate.
He said the beds were closed in 2011 and Alberta Health Services promised the acute care beds would reopen when the community found doctors. Instead of continuing to wait for AHS to find doctors, the community found them, but the beds have not returned.
“I’ve raised questions in the house to the health minister as to why those beds aren’t being re-instated,” Strankman said.
He said the nearest acute care beds are 50 km away in Coronation, 80 km away in Provost, and 90 km away in Oyen.
Redford said the issue is one for medical experts and there needs to be discussion to ensure the right health-care decisions are made.
“There is no doubt when we look at what health care will be in Alberta, it’s going to have to be as innovative as what we’ve been talking about in respect to the SuperNet,” Redford told Strankman.
Bonnie Sansregret, chair of Consort and District Medical Centre Society Board and Special Areas councillor, said the medical centre is currently working with AHS to find a solution but it’s been difficult for the community and surrounding area.
“We have two physicians now. We’re very sustainable. We have a full compliment of nursing staff so we want to make those beds meet the needs of the community,” Sansregret said.
In 2011, Consort Community Health Centre lost 5 acute care beds because locum coverage was unavailable. Fifteen long-term care beds remain.
Sansregret said if the beds re-open they could be used for acute care, palliative care, or for residents to recuperate after surgery which is usually how rural hospital beds are used.
“Alberta Health Services assured us once we had the two physicians the service would be enhanced so that’s why we’re working with them now.
“I’m optimistic we’ll meet the needs of the community.”
She said the next meeting with AHS is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 15.