Chronically short-changed Red Deer hospital isn’t positioned to benefit from the health-care gains reported by the province on Monday, says a local doctor.
“It’s wonderful to see the number improving,” Dr. Kym Jim, of the Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta (SHECA), after the new head of Alberta Health Services announced decreased waits for ambulances, emergency treatment and surgeries in the province.
But Jim cautioned that the gains that were found since Dr. Jim Cowell took over as administrator of AHS, must be considered in context of other variables. Could emergency room waits be shorter, for instance, because of normal seasonal fluctuations in flues and respiratory illnesses — which have dropped considerably since last fall?
And as for the state of Red Deer hospital, the third-busiest health facility in Alberta needs far more than the initiatives undertaken to resolve its many issues, “which are unique in the province” — and mostly connected to inadequate infrastructure, Jim added.
A town hall meeting is being planned by SHECA at 11 a.m. on March 8 at the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame. Anyone concerned about Red Deer hospital shortages is encouraged to attend.
Jim said an update on the situation will be given, as well as some “revealing new data that brings to light a few problems and (funding) inequities throughout the province.”
He has been calling for a “comprehensive plan” to be drawn up for how Red Deer hospital is supposed to function over the next five to 10 years, before construction on an expansion begins and then wraps in 2032.
Although lacking in space, the hospital could more immediately benefit from expanded programs, making it more attractive to get and retain healthcare staff in the interim, Jim added.
Cowell reported on Monday that AHS has added 800 more nurses and health care aides in 2022 and, since November, has added 28 physicians to rural Alberta and 278 registered nurses.
Jim hasn’t noticed a staffing increase at Red Deer hospital, “and if there has been, it’s not to a point where it’s made a difference,” he said.
Cowell also reported on Monday that local waits for ER treatment fell by 10 per cent across Alberta since November. He did not specify which communities saw a decrease. Red Deer hospital had among the longest emergency room waits in the province.
While AHS opened 255 new acute care beds across the province, none of these were at Red Deer hospital, which is not slated to get more patient beds until the expansion is done in 2032. This mean 30 years will pass since the last hospital bed increase at the facility, noted Jim.
According to Cowell, the number of patients who are waiting longer than the clinically recommended time for surgeries has decreased by 9.4 per cent across Alberta since November. He added that ambulance waits have also fallen over that period.
Red Deer falls into the “communities with more than 3,000 residents,” which cumulatively saw an overall reduction of more than two minutes in waiting for paramedics to show up. (The wait on average was 19.2 minutes rather than 21.5 minutes in November).
But Ken McMullen, acting general manager of protective services for the City of Red Deer, said most of the new ambulance-related projects in Alberta have been focused on Calgary and Edmonton, so the larger centres would see more benefit than this city.
Since the next part of the initiative is expected to focus on Red Deer and other mid-sized communities, he hopes to see some local gains before the end of March.