Retiring city manager Craig Curtis used one of his last public platforms to passionately urge central Albertans to keep pressuring politicians for a Red Deer hospital expansion.
Deep health-care deficiencies exist when area residents have to be transferred to other hospitals because of a lack of beds, and ambulance workers get tied up in emergency for “hours and hours” waiting for their patients to be admitted, he told a chamber of commerce luncheon audience on Wednesday.
But when doctors — “our highest benchmark,” since they work at the hospital daily — are telling the public it’s inadequate, Curtis stressed, “we are in fairly serious trouble.”
He believes the hospital project was put back on the provincial government’s infrastructure priority list because of tireless lobbying from Red Deer city council.
All the same, Curtis said this doesn’t guarantee the project will get funding. Since it’s an election year and questionable whether the New Democrats will return to power, he said central Albertans must work hard to keep the project in the forefront for any new leaders who could make up the next government.
“Now’s the time to take the plight of Red Deer hospital extremely seriously,” said Curtis, by ensuring all political candidates get the message loud and clear.
Curtis also talked about difficulties caused by the opioid crisis, the need for a local drug treatment centre, as well as a 24/7 shelter for homeless and addicted people in Red Deer.
Many are living in outdoor sleeper camps that city workers clean up for public safety, as well as for the safety of the campers, who benefit from being connected to social agencies and support services, he said.
When asked if the municipality could step in with some shelter funding if the provincial government isn’t taking the initiative, Curtis said this would be up to elected officials to determine.
The city’s top administrator, who’s retiring after 40 years in municipal service a day after the Canada Winter Games, spoke of the many changes he’s seen over the years, and some of the challenges Red Deer will face.
Among these is building the expensive Northlands connector route and bridge, developing Riverlands and annexing more land from the county to ensure there’s a supply beyond the next 17 years.
Of the current oilfield crisis, Curtis said there’s a need for economic diversification, which the city encourages through various initiatives. These include holding an investors’ forum, working with the Central Alberta Economic Partnership and encouraging tourism development, including forming a new bid committee to draw more special events to the city.
Curtis said he “absolutely” intends to stay in Red Deer. “We are Red Deerians… we love this community.”