Once again Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre expansion has been left off Alberta Health Services’ infrastructure priority list.
On Tuesday AHS released its 2017 Multi-Year Health Facility Infrastructure Capital Submission that listed nine priority projects — four in Calgary, two in Edmonton, one in Lethbridge, and one provincial project involving both Lethbridge and Ponoka.
Seven projects are estimated to cost a total of $447 million. Estimates were not included for two projects, but each would be at least $5 million.
Dr. Keith Wolstenholme, one of several local doctors championing the expansion of services and beds at Red Deer hospital, said Red Deer was identified as one of 124 potential major capital projects.
“So really Red Deer Regional Hospital expansion is sitting in a wasteland with 130 other projects that have not been approved to sit on the urgent priority list. That’s really disappointing considering this is the list we were third on four years ago,” said Wolstenholme on Wednesday.
“It certainly seems like all of Central Zone, not just Red Deer, has by and large been ignored by the funding that was handed out already or in the funding that is planned in the future.”
A total of 21 major health care projects are currently underway in Alberta worth an estimated $5.5 billion, he said.
Consistently one of the five busiest hospitals in Alberta, Red Deer hospital was short 96 beds, three operating rooms, and 18 emergency room treatment stretchers as of 2015. Without expansion, the need for operating rooms, beds and emergency treatment space will quickly multiple.
A cardiac catheterization laboratory is among the services doctors are calling for. In 2016 local doctors reported that without local access to treat blocked arteries, and the long transfer times for the treatment elsewhere, it means Central Albertans have a 60 per cent higher rate of death or disability than people in Calgary or Edmonton.
Wolstenholme said right now the flu is contributing to lengthy wait times in the emergency department, but the fact remains that Red Deer hospital continues to be under resourced.
“At peak times it is quite regular for wait times to be in excess of four to five hours.”
Waits can stretch from nine to 12 hours at times, and it’s not uncommon to have 25 admitted patients in the emergency department waiting for a hospital bed, he said.
“The front line workers at Red Deer Regional Hospital and our local administration are doing everything possible to try and take good care of people, but the fact remains that we serve a population anywhere from 450,000 to 550,000 and we simply don’t have the beds or resources to take care of everybody,” Wolstenholme said.
Wolstenholme said there is still a chance that Red Deer hospital expansion will make it onto the AHS priority list if the public can sway the Alberta government — that has the final say — with e-mails, letters and whatever they can do to apply pressure.
Red Deer resident MaryLou Speelman said the lack of cardiac care and frustrating waits in the ER infuriates her.
“It’s a nightmare. I’m ready to go and stand on the Legislature lawn and stand there with a sign and just keep standing there until they do something,” Speelman said.
She said on Jan. 4 her aunt, who had pneumonia and COPD, waited for seven hours on oxygen in the emergency waiting room. She spent four days in hospital once admitted.
“I’m not blaming nurses and I’m not blaming doctors because I know they’re under a lot of strain. It’s just wrong. It’s just a real sad state of affairs and how it got this way, and how (government) let it get this way, I don’t know,” Speelman said.
Kerry Bales, chief officer for AHS Central Zone, said he completely recognizes the challenging environment for patients, family, staff and physicians.
“With the growing population we know that there’s a growing strain on the system and the only way that we have been able to, and continue to be able to provide quality care, is because of the efforts of our staff and physicians,” Bales said.
AHS Central Zone also acknowledges the feedback from patients and family, he said.
“We take it seriously and we’re going to be doing everything we can to make sure that we are trying to improve people’s experiences with or without a new capital build.”
The median wait for patients to be treated and released from emergency is three to 3.5 hours. For those admitted to hospital, the median wait is eight to 11 hours from the time they see a triage nurse.
He said for 2017 government asked AHS to prioritize infrastructure projects that utilized vacant space, transitioned patients into the community, or critically urgent infrastructure projects.