Problems in recruiting new physicians to the city start with shortfalls at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, said Mayor Ken Johnston. (Advocate file photo.)

Problems in recruiting new physicians to the city start with shortfalls at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, said Mayor Ken Johnston. (Advocate file photo.)

To boost physician recruitment, start fixing shortfalls at Red Deer hospital, says Mayor

More than cash inventives are needed to attract doctors to this city, says Ken Johnston

Mayor Ken Johnston says “deeper issues” are preventing new doctors from moving to Red Deer than can be solved with cash incentives.

While the Town of Fort Macleod is offering new physicians a $10,000 inventive to move to the community and work there for five years, Red Deer’s problems start with chronic shortfalls at Red Deer hospital, says Johnston.

Health workers have long known the facility is lacking beds and surgical suites and has no life-saving cardiac catherization lab to help heart attack patients.

While the provincial government promised more than $1.8 billion dollars for a Red Deer hospital expansion that would be completed by 2030-31, so far, no timeline for this project has been shared with the public.

Johnston notes that Alberta Health Services received $100,000 in 2019 for project planning. But to date, nothing has been revealed about what the hospital project will look like, and how it will unfold. “After three years can they really have nothing to present?” he questioned on Tuesday.

The mayor believes problems that start with the hospital shortfalls are now spilling out into the community.

Red Deer has not only lost various medical specialists but even family doctors/ general practitioners are in short supply as this city has among the longest patient waits at walk-in clinics in the province.

Johnston says doctors want a good quality of life. They know that moving to a community with a scarcity of specialists and other medical colleagues, and multi-fold hospital inadequacies, will work against this.

“We are in a situation where we really have to take a look at the human toll. Our medical people are tired. They want a better work-life balance… We are losing specialists to other major centres…”

The mayor believes physician recruitment to Red Deer would be easier if there was a hope of alleviating some of the more serious hospital problems in three to five years, through a phased-in expansion.

Local doctors have asked Alberta Health Services to implement interim measures to help solve the more serious shortfalls.

They say the shortage of operating rooms, for example, needs to be addressed immediately, and not by 2030-31 when patient beds will grow to 540 from 370 and only three new operating rooms are planned to be added.

Surgeries at Red Deer hospital still being temporarily diverted to other centres. As of Tuesday, 44 patients were sent to surrounding communities, including Camrose, Rocky Mountain House, Drumheller, Edmonton or Calgary for surgical procedures in order to ensure they get the care they need.

Temporary surgery diversion began April 29 at Red Deer hospital, due to a shortage of clinical assistants who support the general surgery program, and other factors.

There have also been brief gaps at the hospital in on-call and night-time coverage for internal medicine and cardiac care.

Johnston will be meeting with AHS officials in June. He hopes to get some concrete information about how the hospital expansion will be phased in and when it will start. “I hope to see something on the agenda that’s worth talking about.”

The Advocate’s questioned Alberta Health about when a timeline for the hospital expansion will be revealed.

Charity Wallace, assistant director of communications for Alberta Health, said “We’re proud to commit the first $190 million in Budget 2022, of the anticipated $1.8 billion total cost of the project. Planning is moving ahead as fast as possible, given the size and complexity of the project. This is the biggest single hospital redevelopment project in the province’s history.”

Wallace added the business case for the Red Deer Hospital is now complete and functional programming is underway, with completion expected in 2022-23. The later will provide vital information for the progression of the project, she added.

“Extensive planning is one of the most important parts of a health project of this size and complexity, especially when working within an active treatment facility.”

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