Alberta meeting health targets, including 10,000 new surgeries

The Alberta government is giving itself high marks in meeting its targets for improving the health-care system.

EDMONTON — The Alberta government has given itself high marks in meeting its goals for improving health care, including tripling its target for new surgeries and reducing the number of people stranded in emergency rooms.

But critics accuse Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky of cherry-picking statistics, saying wait times for knee and hip surgeries are still too long and too many older patients remain stuck in hospitals awaiting continuing care beds.

Zwozdesky said the province has met 18 of the 19 benchmarks it set out for itself in its five-year plan. Some goals have been exceeded, such as the number of surgeries performed in 2010-11.

“I don’t think anybody on the team thought we’d get to 10,000 additional surgeries,” Zwozdesky said Thursday.

“That is probably one of the most significant things today — the large number of surgeries that were added. The second part of that is it’s a sustainable number.”

However, about half of those new surgeries were cataract surgeries. The number of hip and knee replacements increased by fewer than 300, and the Liberal Opposition pointed out that wait times for those surgeries remain outside Alberta Health Services targets.

Most knee replacement wait times are about six weeks longer than recommended. The figure for hip replacements is 15 weeks.

Zwozdesky said patients coming into emergency rooms are moving on more quickly to acute-care beds.

“The people who are waiting to be moved out of emergency into acute-care beds has been decreased by 51 per cent over the last year in Edmonton and by 80 per cent in Calgary,” he said.

The difference between the two cities was explained as Edmonton hospitals serving a wider region, stretching into northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

“Clearly, we have some additional work to do in Edmonton,” Zwozdesky said.

As well, the government has added 360 hospital beds to the system — 214 in Calgary and 146 in the Edmonton area.

But Liberal Leader David Swann said even though emergency room practices have improved, nearly 500 patients remain in acute-care beds awaiting long-term care. He called Zwozdesky’s claims “tepid improvements” and “tiny steps.”