Work will start this year on re-jigging Red Deer hospital’s interior to find more space, says Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda.
But don’t look for any construction cranes in the sky just yet.
Panda told city officials — as well as area MLAs, MPs and local business owners who attended a Zoom conference on Wednesday — that while some internal re-structuring at the hospital is to start later in 2021, more visible signs of an expansion are still some time away.
“It will help the local community when we do some de-bottlenecking in some areas — and that will definitely happen this year,” said Panda.
While onlookers “won’t see shovels outside, inside a lot of work will be happening,” the minister added.
As for expanding the hospital’s actual footprint — which most Red Deerians have been anticipating for the last decade — Alberta Infrastructure expects site work will begin in late winter or early spring next year, once the functional program for how the project is to be phased has been completed.
“We can share the timelines then,” said deputy minister Shannon Flint, who also attended the digital conference that was organized by the Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce.
Panda said many options are still being considered for how to accommodate the hospital expansion on a constricted hilltop site, including looking at off-site spaces for some hospital services.
He pledged to return to the community with an update.
Meanwhile, Panda wanted to reassure Red Deerians that New Democrat assertions that his UCP government broke its promise to Red Deerians about the hospital expansion is untrue.
“We are committed. This is a top priority project,” stressed the minister.
“I am equally eager to see shovels in the ground,” added Panda, who maintained that he had hoped to see more progress, but the pandemic held things up.
Work has been “expedited” on the hospital’s needs assessment and business case. Once these are completed, Panda said a functional program will determine how money is allocated to the project.
In the 2021 provincial budget, Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre got $5 million for “renewal” and about $1 million more for design. A three-year plan showed the local hospital expansion is slated to receive $19 million in 2022-23 and $35 million in 2023-24, totalling about $60 million.
Panda expects final project costs to exceed the $100 million, which Premier Jason Kenney had promised in February last year for the first phase of the hospital expansion. The Treasury Board must approve project spending before construction can start.
Panda said his department has been co-ordinating plans with Alberta Health. “As soon as our colleagues at Alberta Health can give us the go-ahead… we are on standby.”
Jennifer Bestard, Alberta Health Services’ zone medical director for the Central zone, confirmed planning for the expansion has been completed. Despite front-line workers having to treat patients with COVID-19, she said, “Our work on functional programming is meeting our timelines…”
The business case identifies “a need for significant in-patient expansion in multiple areas of the hospital.” she added.
In 2017, the facility was found lacking 96 admitting beds, 18 emergency room beds, three operating rooms and other services, including a cardiac catheterization lab.
A 2020 infrastructure report found Red Deer hospital was not meeting AHS performance targets for emergency room wait times, length of stay, and had longer waits for surgery. Medical beds were consistently “well over 100 per cent occupancy for a number of years.”
The hospital was also found to be dealing with sicker, higher-need patients as its role as a regional referral centre increases.