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Money pegged for Red Deer hospital project for 2023 will be spent on planning and design, says Alberta Health

The project is running on schedule: spokesperson
Money pegged for the Red Deer hospital redevelopment for 2023 will be spent on planning and design. (Advocate file photo.)

Comparisons between $634 million received by a new Edmonton hospital project and the $320.6 million allotted to the Red Deer hospital redevelopment are arbitrary, states an Alberta Health spokesperson.

“These are two very different projects that should not be directly compared when it comes to how funding will flow through to the construction each year,” said Scott Johnston, press secretary to the health minister.

“Just because there (are) more dollars projected for the Edmonton hospital does not mean it is moving forward any faster or is a priority over Red Deer.

“Red Deer is moving forward as quickly as possible,” Johnston added.

Concerns were raised by Red Deer health care workers after Tuesday’s provincial budget showed that a new south Edmonton hospital project, only approved in 2019, is suddenly getting $634 million in funding until 2026. Red Deer hospital’s redevelopment, needed for more than a decade, is getting $320.6 million over the next three years, with substantial construction not expected until 2027-28.

“How did that project get so far ahead of us?” wondered Dr. Kym Jim, of Society for Hospital expansion in Central Alberta (SHECA) on Wednesday.

Johnston responded the budget accounted for how much funding is expected to be needed in the next three fiscal years. “RDRH remains a priority of Alberta’s government and the project is currently on schedule.”

Johnston confirmed the design phase is anticipated to begin in spring 2023. This indicates the $106 million, or so, that’s pegged for the project this year will not be used to make physical changes to improve the hospital functions, but rather to cover more planning and design costs.

“Planning is critical to ensure that we meet the current and future needs of patients without compromising patient care and delivery of health services and programs,” said Johnston.

However, he said some changes are currently underway at the hospital to alleviate pressures. A mixed care unit is being reconfigured into two distinct units to provide care for general internal medicine, as well as short stay surgery. This will result in an increase of 18 care spaces and nearly 18 full-time equivalent staff, said Johnston,

The hospital is also getting a specialty program for outpatients that will help ease pressure in other areas, such as the Emergency Department, said Johnston.

Since about half of the hospital’s admissions are patients from outside of Red Deer who require higher level of care, “we work closely with physicians to transfer those patients to their local acute care facilities to complete their course of care as soon as it is appropriate to do so,” said Johnston.

On any given day he said “there are 80-plus acute care beds available throughout the zone.”

Additionally, the hospital’s surgical department has been evaluating using some rural hospital operating rooms for some existing surgeries, he said. “Leadership is continually looking at all aspects of inpatient care to find ways to improve capacity.”

Staff is also being recruited, he said, including 16 clinical assistants to help with “patient care and flow.” A cardiologist, two more internal medicine specialists and more anesthesiologists have also been hired. And “job offers have been made to more.”

He called the Red Deer hospital re-development “unique” as it’s not a completely new build and hospital operations must continue throughout the project.

“We are taking steps to ensure that capacity issues are addressed and to avoid as much disruption to services as possible. This does take significant planning.”

Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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