Opinion: City’s health-care needs ignored once again

Whether it’s services for those struggling with addictions, or patients who need life-saving heart treatment, Red Deer’s medical file continues to gather dust.

The United Conservative government, despite representation from every central Alberta riding, is neglecting the life-or-death needs of residents who placed their trust in it.

Friday, the government announced $8 million in fresh funding for opioid dependency clinics across the province.

The problem is Red Deer has never been provided with such a facility, despite the urgent and apparent need.

Unlike in other areas of the province, those struggling with addiction in Red Deer have no access to specially trained therapists. All they can rely on is virtual support delivered via video conferencing.

“The fact that we, for a long time, had the highest fentanyl death rate in the province, and still no immediate Alberta Health Services program for people to access opioid replacement therapy, is frustrating and really a disservice to the people living with substance use disorder,” says Sarah Fleck, clinical manager at the harm reduction agency Turning Point.

Fleck is too kind. Denying proper service to central Albertans isn’t just “frustrating” and “a disservice,” it’s immoral.

The government knows what’s needed to successfully treat addiction, but can’t be bothered to provide the resources to central Albertans.

“This announcement is definitely a step in the right direction and positive for the province of Alberta, and for people living in some of the major centres, where these programs exist,” says Fleck of Friday’s announcement.

“I just think it’s imperative that at some point, Red Deer be prioritized as another city in the province that also requires the same access to opioid dependency treatment and psychosocial services attached to that.”

Central Albertans shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for the equitable provision of services.

In an open letter written more than one year ago, Mayor Tara Veer identified a long-term residential addictions treatment centre and the expansion of Red Deer hospital as key community needs.

Nothing, of any extent, has come of the mayor’s plea.

There’s no commitment, beyond a bit of money for some planning, to expand the hospital and add the capacity to perform cardiac catheterization.

That means patents’ lives are put at risk every time they’re shuttled to Calgary or Edmonton to undergo a procedure that should be available close to home.

And there’s no facility where the addicted can stay and receive the range of services and assistance they need.

The experts know what’s at stake for those who suffer from addiction.

“At the end of the day, just simply using a prescription pad to prescribe methadone, or buprenorphine, is not going to be the answer to the addiction crisis. It has to be relationships,” said AHS’s Dr. Robert Tanguay during Friday’s announcement.

Ah, relationships. It’s too bad central Albertans’ relationship with the provincial government is so one sided: we provide political support during the election, and are then neglected when it comes to the investment of our tax dollars into essential services.

In fact, among the deficits of the city is a fully functioning 24/7 homeless shelter — something else the mayor requested one year ago.

It’s evident the financial decision-makers, who tend to come from Calgary and Edmonton, are only too happy to put the needs of their residents ahead of others, even if it costs lives.

Even worse, central Alberta’s United Conservative MLAs appear to be complicit in this tragedy.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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