Opinion: Taking the pulse of an ailing hospital

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre is a weak link in the city.

The community offers a first-rate lifestyle with enviable recreation and cultural amenities.

It also boasts what’s said to be the lowest unemployment level in the province, ensuring there are opportunities for individuals and families to build a full and successful life.

The hospital, however, isn’t up to snuff. That is no reflection on the talented doctors, nurses and other staff who are dedicated to keeping residents well, of course. It’s simply that the facility has been neglected in favour of hospitals elsewhere in the province.

Wednesday, the Advocate begins a three-part series that puts the city’s undersized and under-resourced hospital under the microscope.

The reporting by Sue Zielinski chronicles the brave efforts of concerned physicians to bring the hospital’s shortcomings to light and the work of community members who continue to carry on the fight to ensure Red Deerians can count on the services other Albertans take for granted.

Zielinski’s work also exposes the suffering patients have had to endure because of the lack of facilities. She shares the experience of Lynn Van Laar, who went to the hospital last summer suffering from a blood clot on her lung.

Van Laar waited eight hours to see a doctor and then ended up in a bed behind a curtain in what had been a television room. The space had been converted to storage and a gathering place for families.

“There was a family who had lost a family member who passed away and they came in there to grieve. They didn’t have anywhere to go and I had nowhere to go either, because that was my room,” said Van Laar, who now serves on the volunteer board dedicated to securing improvements to the hospital.

“I didn’t have a bathroom, so whenever I had to go to the bathroom, I would find one that’s open in somebody else’s room.”

The series details the impact a neglected hospital has on people’s health. Did you know, for instance, that as a Red Deer resident, you’re 60 per cent more likely to die or suffer complications from a heart attack than a Calgarian or Edmontonian who suffers the same setback?

Did you know that hospital proponents have been able to determine just how much the region’s residents are shortchanged when it comes to hospital infrastructure investment?

They calculate that Red Deer residents get $228 per capita each year, compared to a whopping $1,633 for every Calgarian.

There’s a provincial election underway and it’s important that residents ensure that candidates understand the importance of making long-overdue improvements to the hospital.

There is no more important issue in this election if you call the area home.

Party leaders have promised to hire hundreds more teachers, build a lane for autonomous vehicles along the QEII Highway and create an economic environment that encourages more investment.

These are grand ideas, but they’re no substitute for providing Red Deer, and the surrounding area, with the quality of health care it’s entitled to — the quality of care residents pay for, but don’t receive.

What’s the point of improving the quality of education, or building roads for tomorrow’s self-driving cars, if Red Deer region residents are denied life-saving medical treatment, such as cardiac catheterization, which clears the heart of blockages?

The series begins Wednesday. The Advocate hopes you’ll check in and learn more about the government underfunding that is literally costing some Red Deer residents their lives.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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