Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston called it a “momentous day” after $1.8 billion was announced by the provincial government over the next eight years for the Red Deer hospital expansion. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)

Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston called it a “momentous day” after $1.8 billion was announced by the provincial government over the next eight years for the Red Deer hospital expansion. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)

Red Deer’s mayor, physicians are thrilled with long-awaited hospital expansion commitment

They are anxious to see how it will roll out over the next eight years

Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston called the province’s $1.8 billion commitment for a Red Deer hospital expansion “momentous news” for the city and all of central Alberta.

Local doctors were similarly elated, even overwhelmed, by Premier Jason Kenney’s announcement on Wednesday.

“To be honest, I cried when he said that,” said Dr. Keith Wolstenholme, a surgeon, who’s been advocating for more operating suites, in-patient hospital beds, and a local cardiac catheterization lab.

A member of the Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta, Wolstenholme has long spoken out about surgical delays and long patient waits.

He considers the expansion announcement “fantastic news” since Red Deer hospital is to gain 200 beds by 2030 — bringing the total to 570 from the existing 370 — as well as a new cardiac lab.

But Wolstenholme questioned whether adding only three surgical suites to the existing 11 — will be enough.

The surgeon believes six more operating rooms, bringing the total to 17 instead of 14, is needed right now — nevermind by 2030 when there will be an older demographic and the hospital expansion is completed.

Premier Kenney also spoke on Wednesday about having charter surgical clinics, which are publicly funded and privately operated. Wolstenholme said some of these are running now in Edmonton and Calgary. If they are to be introduced to Central Alberta, he hopes it would be to augment hospital surgical suites and not replace them.

Wolstenholme hopes these kinds of project details are still flexible, and that renovations get underway soon to fix some of the “bottlenecks” creating problems at the hospital.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Bryce Henderson feels this project will make a huge difference to patient care and to the morale of staff at the hospital: “It’s been 16 years for me, when we haven’t had anything, so I am glad to see this happening.

“It’s good news that the money is coming,” he added, “but premature to know if it will be enough.”

Dr. Kym Jim, an internal medicine specialist, said Wednesday’s “amazing” announcement is the culmination of years of advocacy by the Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta and many others.

Besides a much needed capital investment, Jim hopes the government will also invest in more health care programs and services at the hospital.

He looks forward to learning more details about how the $194 million that’s promised for the project the next three years will be spent. “There are a lot of unanswered questions about the timing of it.”

Government officials stated this will be a complex endeavour, as construction work will have to be done without shutting down the hospital’s existing vital services. Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping said some detailed planning still has to be worked out, and he expected to reveal more in Thursday’s provincial budget and the months ahead.

Meanwhile, Johnston, expressed “overwhelming joy” at Wednesday’s announcement.

“This investment in our regional hospital has taken some time. However, I’m optimistic the prioritization of our hospital will see improved capacity for life-saving treatment and care in the near future,” said the mayor.

Johnston, who thanked the provincial government, Alberta Health Services officials, and health care advocates on behalf of all citizens who will benefit from this project, has been lobbying for expanded hospital infrastructure since 2016.

While his late wife was in hospital with heart problems, Johnston recalled seeing first-hand how crowded and inadequate the facility is for meeting regional needs.

“This announcement is life saving, life affirming and life changing,” added the mayor, who looks forward to working alongside health-care professionals and government counterparts to see this project progress towards completion.

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