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YEAR IN REVIEW: Long-awaited $1.8 billion Red Deer hospital expansion was announced in February

Local health care workers are still waiting for interim improvements
Then premier Jason Kenney announced a $1.8 billion expansion of Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre earlier this year. The project will be completed in 2030. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/ Advocate staff)

Calling it a “historic day,” a $1.8 billion Red Deer hospital expansion was promised by former Alberta premier Jason Kenney in February.

Although the entire expansion project won’t be completed until 2030-32, this long-awaited government funding commitment was welcomed health care and municipal officials — as well as all Red Deer-area citizens who have been concerned for over a decade about hospital shortfalls.

“For too long, central Albertans have been waiting for these critical upgrades and expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital,” said the former premier — to general agreement from those who gathered at Red Deer Polytechnic for the announcement.

Under the plan that’s to start with a $193 million investment over the next three years, Red Deer hospital will eventually be expanded to 540 patient beds from the current 370. Three new operating rooms were also to be added, bringing the total to 14. Some local doctors felt having only three additional ORs would not fill local surgical needs. They also wanted some interim measures to be taken to alleviate hospital stresses — particularly the long waits for non-urgent surgeries.

The Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta has since complained that action has not been swift enough.

Long patient waits. of sometimes 12 hours or more, are continuing to plague the hospital’s emergency room. Some operations had to be diverted to other hospitals this summer and fall. And Red Deer hospital continues to lack a cardiac catheterization lab to help save lives of people who have suffered heart attacks.

The recruitment of health care staff to replace those who retired or left the hospital continues to be an issue for Alberta Health Services (AHS). While acknowledging that some recruitment has been done, Dr. Kym Jim, a local physician with the Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta, said the net balance hasn’t yet been restored at Red Deer hospital: “More physicians left than are being replaced.”

Jim urged more immediate efforts be taken to address the “tremendous infrastructure deficit” at the hospital, as well as more on-call supports for local surgeons and anesthesiologists, and funding for more support programs for various medical specialties, including cardiac and pulmonary/respiratory.

Waiting until 2031 to get more beds means the largest, busiest acute care hospital outside of Calgary and Edmonton will not have gained any patient beds for 30 years, said Jim. “Central Albertans cannot wait for another decade to get things done.”

As of November, an AHS spokesperson said nine out of 11 operating rooms at the hospital were running with available staffing and anesthesiology, while efforts continue to fill ongoing vacancies. As well, the OR schedule is also being reworked to help reduce night time on-call levels, and AHS is providing signing bonuses and reimbursement for doctors who are prepared to relocate to central Alberta.

A general vision of the Red Deer hospital expansion was revealed to the public by Alberta Infrastructure in November. The hospital will be expanded upwards, with more floors added to hold more beds. Outpatient services is planned to be housed in a separate building, nearby.