Opinion: Promise of Red Deer hospital improvements must be kept

Public-sector union leaders are making no secret of the fact they’re upset with Alberta’s new government.

Many of the unions signed deals that included no wage increases in the first two years of their contacts, but with the promise of arbitration in the third year.

Obviously, it was hoped that they’d be successful in getting the NDP returned to office and the coffers would open wide.

It’s important to note the contracts simply included the promise of arbitration. There was no commitment to higher wages, even by the NDP.

The decision by the United Conservative Party to delay negotiations until it had a good understanding of Alberta’s finances has the union leaders incensed.

But if anyone should be concerned about the prospect of promises made by the previous government being broken, surely it should be central Albertans.

The throne speech delivered by Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell one month before the April general election said improvements to Red Deer Hospital “will expand the emergency room, establish a cardiac catheterization lab, and expand other services to ensure this vital part of central Alberta is ready to care for generations of patients and families.”

We’re not talking about a promise to negotiate something, like well-cared-for public-sector employees received in hope of a wage increase.

We’re talking about a firm commitment that was read by the Queen’s representative on the floor of the legislature to improve inadequate hospital service in our region.

The Jason Kenney government has been noncommittal about proceeding with the badly needed improvements to our region’s hospital.

During a tour of a local school Thursday, MLA Adriana LaGrange said the city’s two MLAs are strongly advocating for the hospital.

It’s to be hoped they are, because it’s been previously found that residents of our region have a 70 per cent higher death rate after a heart attack than people in Calgary because of a lack of service.

Not surprisingly, a group dedicated to Red Deer Hospital improvements has discovered the region has been shortchanged compared to other parts of the province.

The health infrastructure investment between 2008 to 2018 amounted to $2.5 billion in Calgary. In Edmonton, spending came to $1.4 billion.

Northern Alberta received $999 million in funding, while the south received $451 million, according to documents obtained by the Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta.

Central Alberta received just $107 million in comparison.

“This is over $2,000 per Albertan for the rest of the province and approximately $200 for the people of Central Alberta. It’s because of this that we have a significant health-care deficit and this is not going to get any better,” said Dr. Alan Poole, a radiologist at our hospital.

“It’s going to get worse and needs to be addressed in an urgent fashion.”

Central Alberta has an unprecedented presence at the provincial government cabinet table today, with three United Conservative representatives from the region.

Even as the government brings the budget into balance over the next four years, the hard-fought-for promise of overdue hospital improvements should be fulfilled.

It would be encouraging to see our MLAs demonstrate the same level of commitment as union leaders do, this time for the cause of health care that puts the region on equal footing with other Albertans.

“You guys are my bosses,” LaGrange told students Thursday during a tour of Westpark Middle School.

Granted, LaGrange is minister of education, but she represents all of her constituents. The ones in need of proper hospital care are her bosses too, and in great need of fair treatment.

If health-care spending continues to flow from Edmonton to Calgary, bypassing Red Deer, then we have elected the wrong people to represent us.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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