File photo by ADVOCATE staff Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer and City Manager Craig Curtis talked about their ongoing frustration with the province on health issues.

Red Deer’s frustration with provincial health ministry boils over

‘We feel a portable (supervised consumption) unit could have been built by now’: Mayor Tara Veer

Bringing a supervised consumption site to Red Deer has exposed the city’s longstanding frustration with Alberta Health Services.

So much so City Manager Craig Curtis said “Alberta Health Services continues to be a disaster” in a February email obtained through a freedom of information act request.

Curtis said Thursday, the line, while blunt, came from a build up of frustration with AHS over a number of issues, including the supervised consumption site.

“It’s perhaps not the most diplomatic term, but I think council and administration have been extremely frustrated with the whole health portfolio,” said Curtis.

That frustration is evident even as the city mulls its options for licensing a mobile SCS.

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said the hope is to have the mobile unit set up while they try to find a permanent site.

“We feel strongly that the portable unit could have been built by now, but we certainly haven’t felt like we’ve had a willing partner,” said Veer, referring to the unit being located at the hospital.

Correspondence between the city and Alberta Health Ministry late last year shows the city requested Turning Point’s SCS needs assessment, and an extension to submit their position on SCS.

Associate health minister Brandy Payne responded the input was not required for the needs assessment. This led to the city’s belief the SCS would move forward regardless of community or municipality input.

In a subsequent exchange between Benjamin Alldritt, the health minister’s deputy chief of staff, and the city, Alldritt told the city community consultation is required to obtain the federal exemption to run a SCS.

“There has been ongoing frustration with the process because of the lack of clarity around the process, the city’s role and authority and the timing,” said Veer.

On March 5, the city met with Payne. Veer said Payne “apologized for the lack of clarity in the supervised consumption site process and for the local confusion the delay in the release of the needs assessment has caused.”

In text exchanges obtained by the Advocate, this meeting was seen by Red Deer councillors as a restart in the relationship between the city and AHS. Another meeting is scheduled for next week between the city and the health ministry.

Veer pointed to the city’s drug and alcohol strategy, which includes harm reduction, SCS and clean needle distribution, and treatment. She said the city hasn’t received a formal response addressing the need for a treatment facility in Red Deer. On Dec. 19, 2017, 20 provincially-funded medical detox beds were opened in the city. A day later, council voted on its SCS land use bylaw amendment.

Frustration had been building over many years between the city and Alberta Health Services.

Veer pointed to the push by local doctors for a cardiac catheterization lab and the city falling off AHS’ infrastructure priorities list.

“There has been a strong frustration with the process,” said Veer, adding there are service inequities between Red Deer and similar communities in the province.

The provincial government has given $1-million in planning money for the Red Deer Regional Hospital’s expansion, but, in 2014, the city was third on the province’s capital projects priority list.

In a statement from Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, she said the province is committed to working with our municipal partners in Red Deer on strengthening health care services.

“Work is also underway on the best way forward for new capital investments to support greater health care delivery in Red Deer. I appreciate the city’s interest in ensuring their priorities and concerns are addressed and look forward to continuing to work together to plan for the future of public health care in Red Deer.”

The city will give second and third reading to its licensing bylaws around a mobile SCS May 28.



mcrawford@reddeeradvocate.com

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