Health budget $11B

Alberta Health Services says reducing wait times in hospital emergency departments and improving care for seniors are top priorities in its $11.2-billion budget.

EDMONTON — Alberta Health Services says reducing wait times in hospital emergency departments and improving care for seniors are top priorities in its $11.2-billion budget.

The budget for the fiscal year was approved Tuesday by the agency’s government-appointed board of directors.

“The 2010 budget responds to two critical priorities — reducing the time Albertans spend waiting for care in emergency departments and ensuring that Albertans have a wide range of options to remain independent and healthy as they age,” said board chairman Ken Hughes.

The spending plan includes money for the expansion of emergency services at Calgary’s Rockyview General, Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra and Grande Prairie’s Queen Elizabeth II hospitals.

The budget also plans for an additional 1,100 continuing-care beds for seniors across the province.

The two priorities are inter-related. Alberta Health Services estimates about 700 seniors are waiting in acute care for space to open up in a long-term care facility.

The idea is that once the new continuing-care spaces are added, acute care beds will become available to help patients move into hospitals more quickly.

Alberta Health Services says another 2,000 long-term care beds will be added by 2013.

The budget also calls for more hospital beds for people dealing with addictions and more palliative care beds.

There is no funding set aside to increase the number of for people who need mental health care.

Money is also to be spent to hire more health-care providers in what Alberta Health Services calls priority areas.

Specific information on how many people are to be hired and in what types of jobs was not immediately available.

NDP Leader Brian Mason said the health budget is woefully short on details despite the fact that it makes up almost one-quarter of the government’s entire expenditures.

“There’s more detail in a household grocery budget than the supposed budget for Alberta Health Services,” Mason said. “Albertans deserve to have a clear accounting of how Alberta Health Services plans to spend.”

Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky is expected to announce next month which new or existing health facilities will benefit from a separate $2.5-billion capital budget.