Another year, another Alberta budget and another blow to central Albertans.
Budget 2021 billed by the government as “Protecting Lives and Livelihoods” makes historic investments in health care across the province. But not in central Alberta.
In our region, last week’s budget seemed to take away previously committed dollars for the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.
Late last week, Mayor Tara Veer told the Advocate, the hospital is the No. 1 infrastructure request for the residents of the city from the provincial government. That paints a clear picture of the city residents’ priorities.
The city is seeking clarity from the UCP government on the total amount coming for the hospital expansion.
“We will be and have already reached out to the province on that specifically, ensuring that they follow through on their word for the full amount on the Phase 1 capital funding for the hospital,” said Veer on Friday.
In the 2021 provincial budget, Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre got $5 million for renewal and about $1 million more for design. A government three-year plan showed the local hospital expansion is slated to receive $19 million in 2022-23 and $35 million in 2023-24.
But while receiving about $60 million, in total, over three years might sound like a lot, it will barely cover a cardiac catheterization lab, which is needed to lower the number of central Albertans dying of heart attacks, one local doctor told the Advocate.
A second physician, Dr. Kym Jim, of the Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta, noted the $60 million promised for the hospital project by 2024 is a far cry from the $100 million that the province had pledged for the Red Deer hospital project last year.
Jim calculated that the provincial government is spending less than three per cent of its overall health care infrastructure budget on central Alberta facilities over the next three years — even though this region makes up 10 per cent of the provincial population.
“This budget is putting central Alberta even further behind than where we already are,” said Jim.
The society’s Facebook page Diagnosis Critical. Your Central Alberta Regional Hospital posted Tuesday that the group was assured previously that the funding was on the way to deliver more beds, surgical services and a cardiac catherization facility to central Alberta.
“We now have concerns that this may not be the case. The funds appear inadequate, and certainly not proportionate to what has been and is planning to be spent in other health zones in the province.”
Central Albertans now know: Not even $18.2-billion in deficit from the province is going to give us what we need.
In 2019, the need for upgrades at the hospital was acknowledged. But this year’s budget ignores those needs, risking the lives of central Albertans. The Alberta government seems to be going back on its commitment and taking away what was promised to us.
This would mean it’s back to the drawing board for central Albertans – who will have to continue to advocate for the hospital as we have in the past.
What the provincial government fails to see is the fact that the hospital not only supports Red Deerians but also the neighbouring region. According to the Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta, the local hospital is the busiest one in the region, with 50 per cent of its patients from outside of the city.
If adequate funding doesn’t make it to central Albertans before March 2023, in time for the next general election in Alberta, Kenney government might just repeat NDP history: seek reelection on the hope that central Albertans will be fooled by promises rather than action.
If the UCP government can’t keep a $100 million commitment from one year to the next, can we really expect them to keep an election promise?
Mamta Lulla is managing editor at the Red Deer Advocate.