Exactly one year after the former NDP government promised a Red Deer hospital expansion, there’s still no word the UCP government is moving ahead with the project, says the New Democrat health critic.
Dave Shepherd believes there would already be some indication if the UCP was planning some big announcement regarding Red Deer hospital in the Feb. 27 provincial budget.
“With such a major investment, the MLAs would have dropped a few hints by now,” or municipal leaders would have been given the heads-up, Shepherd said, “but we’ve heard absolutely nothing. Not a word.”
Instead, he noted Health Minister Tyler Shandro wrote a column for an Edmonton news outlet about the need to close some little-used rural hospital emergency rooms.
And Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen has spoken about possibly adding private, for-profit clinics to the provincial health-care system.
The latter could increase patient crowding at Red Deer hospital, added Shepherd, whose NDP government was defeated a couple of months after the promise of the hospital expansion was made on Feb. 14, 2019.
Alberta Health responded to Shepherd’s comments with this statement on Friday: “We campaigned on a promise to move forward on the much-needed modernization and expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, and we intend to keep that commitment.
“Our government will have more to say on this in the days ahead,” states Steve Buick, press secretary for the minister.
Meanwhile, patient overcrowding at Red Deer hospital, which serves 300,000 people in central Alberta, continues to create significant issues.
A local woman recently complained that her sick mother had to lay on a stretcher in a hallway for six hours waiting for a hospital bed.
The overcapacity situation caused Red Deer hospital officials to initiate a Level 3 protocol (the second highest) for the seventh time since last summer. This means some patients had to be sent to other facilities to free up hospital beds in Red Deer.
Last week, Red Deer orthopedic surgeon Dr. Bryce Hendersen also spoke out about the “gross” lack of operating room capacity, leading to some of his patients waiting for days to get broken bones set, increasing the potential for blood clots.
Red Deer South MLA Jason Stephan could not be reached for comment Friday about whether central Albertans can expect some action on the hospital to be taken in the upcoming provincial budget.
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer had expressed disappointment when no hospital expansion funds were included in the last provincial budget in October.
At the time, she stated her anticipation for seeing something for the hospital, as well as a new 24/7 shelter, in the 2020 budget.
On Friday, Veer said she hasn’t been given any hints about what’s coming in this second budget, but has been invited to come to Edmonton for the announcement, which could indicate Red Deer will be singled out for some project funding — “or it could be just a courtesy invite.”
Veer added the hospital expansion remains the community’s biggest priority, but a shelter is also one of the city’s “asks.” Whether either project will be announced remains to be seen, she added.
Dr. Kym Jim, of the Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta, said he does not want to wade into a political debate on the issue. But his society has seen some work happening lately on the business plan that’s needed before a hospital expansion can be done.
“At this point, we are hopeful that things are progressing and a business case is being initiated… Our society will make further comment once it’s complete,” Jim added.