High hopes for Red Deer hospital expansion ahead of provincial budget

A Red Deer hospital advocate is cautiously optimistic there’ll be money in the upcoming provincial budget to improve local health-care service.

Red Deer Coun. Ken Johnston said he was recently in conversations with local MLAs, alongside his council colleagues.

“I’m guardedly optimistic that we’ll see the most critical need (out of many at the hospital met),” said Johnston, referring to a cardiac catheterization lab at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

“So I’m really hoping Alberta Health Services and the Ministry of Health come to the table and recognize that central Alberta needs this service badly.”

The legislature reconvenes Tuesday, two weeks earlier than scheduled. The United Conservative budget is slated for Oct. 24, three days after the federal election.

Johnston is hoping community voices are being heard at the provincial level.

“I understand the fiscal restraint, without a doubt. But I’m also hoping, after all the advocacy from our community, that the voices around the cardiac issue are finally getting an answer,” he said.

The Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce is also advocating for local hospital funding to be included in the budget.

Reg Warkentin, the chamber’s policy and advocacy manager, said the hospital is the No. 1 priority for central Albertans.

Without quality health care, the business community also struggles, because it becomes that much harder to attract new businesses, investment and employees to the region, he explained.

“If you’re a family considering moving here for work, starting up a new business, certainly if you feel that central Alberta is not getting its fair share of health spending, it’s something that’s going to concern you and affect your decision,” Warkentin explained.

When chamber members meet with local MLAs on issues such as taxes, labour or agriculture, the hospital service issue “inevitably comes up as a priority.”

In September, when Red Deer-North MLA Adriana LaGrange was asked what central Albertans can expect in the upcoming budget, she said the two local MLAs are strongly advocating for local medical improvements.

“We realize how important it is. The people of Red Deer have spoken very loudly. We have been able to make the case to Minister (of Health Tyler) Shandro of the disparity in funding.

“As how we, as a city, have received less per capita over the last decade. So we have shared that with him and we’re hoping for positive results,” she said.

Apart from positive news on the hospital front, Johnston is hoping other Red Deer issues are addressed in the budget, such as harm reduction, homelessness supports, needle debris, affordable housing and seniors housing.

“Budget-wise, I’m hoping there will be a reinvestment in public housing. It’s pretty obvious. We see it from several fronts: first-time homebuyers, seniors, people who find themselves homeless.

“We really need to sit back and take a very sober look at how we’re addressing those housing needs in the province. So I’m hoping the budget sits on that.”

Johnston is hoping the provincial government also addresses the opioid crisis. The previous NDP government promised the city a treatment centre, which Johnston hopes is not lost in the new government’s plan for Red Deer.

Overall, he wants to see a budget that is fiscally responsible, but also supports social stability in the region.

“Our premier promised at AUMA that the spending cuts of the ’90s were not part of this government’s program, and I’m encouraged by that.”

The cath lab would cost around $25 million to $30 million. Johnston doesn’t deny that’s a large amount, but it’s smaller than the bigger problem the hospital is facing: the need for more beds, emergency department capacity and a makeover.

Or, as some people have advocated: a new hospital altogether.

“It’s a $25 million- to $30-million service, versus a $350- to $400-million investment in the hospital.”

The investment in the cath lab would be returned within five years from savings in other areas, such as ground transport, STARS air ambulance, occupational therapy and physiotherapy, among other things, said Johnston.



mamta.lulla@reddeeradvocate.com

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