Recent reports paint a disturbing picture of poorly maintained Alberta hospitals, political interference and a future, possibly, with fewer rural hospitals.
According to the Edmonton Journal’s hospital series, Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre had the fifth highest deferred maintenance costs in the province as of 2013-14 with $23.8 million. Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary was the highest with $80.9 million.
Information the Advocate received in an email from AHS Central Zone showed the Red Deer hospital had $20.3 million in deferred maintenance and most of the 31 projects were awaiting funding approval in the next three to five years.
Those projects include $6.3 million to replace cabinetry, $2 million to replace air handling units, $2.2 million to replace exhaust fans, and $1 million to upgrade monitoring of heating boilers.
AHS says since 2010, about $3.7 million has been or is being spent on the repairs and upgrades, including outpatient renovations, patient meal assembly, staff alert system installation, and replacement of boiler water treatment system. Another $9.7 million will go towards building two dedicated operating rooms on the maternity ward for scheduled caesarean sections and emergency obstetrical procedures.
Despite calls since Dec. 3, no one was available from AHS Central Zone to speak to the deferred maintenance list for the Red Deer hospital or other hospitals in the zone.
Brenda Corney, chairperson of the Red Deer Chapter of Friends of Medicare, said Central Albertans deserve transparency when it comes to their public system.
“It’s the culture of secrecy. The less you tell, the less (the public) has to complain about or know,” Corney said.
And the province has the responsibility to properly maintain hospitals. People expect their taxes to go towards services for the greater good of the population, like public health care, she said.
“It just makes sense to maintain it. We don’t want to end up like Misericordia Community Hospital (in Edmonton) where the maintenance has been prolonged for so long that how it functions is a problem,” Corney said.
Castor and Rimbey hospitals were among nine under utilized Alberta hospitals recommended for closure in the Journal’s health series published last week.
Joe Anglin, MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, firmly rejected the idea of closing Rimbey hospital.
“Closing is just not a solution to this problem. It’s just not. That is not what the public wants and is not necessarily a cost savings or efficient,” said Anglin, who sits as an independent MLA since leaving the Wildrose Party earlier this year.
AHS Central Zone says Rimbey Hospital and Care Centre requires deferred maintenance that will cost $2.1 million, while the Journal pegged it at $3.4 million.
Anglin said maintenance problems at Rimbey hospital have been created over years and fixing it will take time, and requires public consultation.
The hospital serves as a powerful economic driver in the community and rural hospitals provide care comparable to large urban hospitals, he said.
“There are lots of options out there to reduce costs and make better efficient use of our facilities,” Anglin said.
The Journal also suggested political interference had pushed some lower priority maintenance projects to the front of the line in ridings at risk of falling to other political parties.
Michael Dawe, a Liberal candidate in Red Deer in the last provincial election and a former hospital board member, said “It strongly suggests that allocation in health care spending has major political considerations, not just objective and based on patient need, and what’s the most efficient.”
Dawe served as a trustee and chairman of Red Deer Regional Hospital board from 1983 to 1995 and was on David Thompson Health Region board from 2001 to 2008, prior to the creation of Alberta Health Services and the elimination of regional health boards.
He said the list of deferred maintenance projects for local hospitals looked a lot like the ones he saw while on the boards. Many have to do with common maintenance issues — heating and ventilation systems, plumbing, electrical, skylights, nurse call systems, parking lot paving.
“The really urgent issues have always been dealt with. The question is are there lesser issues that were let slide for budget reasons that cumulatively over the years have become big expensive issues,” Dawe said.
Pat Stier, infrastructure critic for the Wildrose, said his party would make a priority list of maintenance issues and stick to it instead of the Conservatives’ habit of changing the way facilities and projects are rated.
“It seems to be like a cork on the water floating all over the place. It could be anywhere on the water the next time a storm blows through,” Stier said.
“Here we are several years later with a bunch of these deferred maintenance problems like you see in Red Deer, and they’re no closer to getting at them than they were several years ago, it would seem.”
And the Wildrose would “absolutely not” close rural hospitals, he said.
“What we need to do is provide services that will attract doctors there. We need to ensure that those communities will have some sort of facilities that can provide overall service.”