Alberta to spend nearly $40M on Calgary hospital power plant

Meanwhile, the city has the lowest number of hospital acute beds in the province.

Earlier this week, the Alberta government announced plans to upgrade the power and electrical systems at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.

Oddly, there was no mention in the release regarding how much they planned to spend on the project.

After some sleuthing, I found a line item in the 2020–2021 budget, which was released this past February, called “Foothills Medical Centre Urgent Power Plant Capacity” (p. 161). It listed a $20 million spend in this budget year and a $19 million spend for the following budget year. That seems to add up to to $39 million, but the 3-year total listed in the Capital Plan Details table is $38 million.

Not sure what happened to that other $1 million. Also, it was weird that they left the amount out of the media release. Generally, they’d be all over telling people that they’re spending tens of millions of dollars on something, especially health related.

Anyhow, this announcement is a good thing. The current systems were built over 50 years ago and were in serious need of an upgrade. Once upgraded, the new system will run on natural gas, with an expanded steam-generating capacity.

The project will require 291 jobs. The government said these are jobs they will create, but that’s not quite true.

Construction projects don’t typically create jobs in the conventional way we think of job creation. The workers who will help with this project are, for the most part, likely already employed, but simply working on a different project. They’ll start to move over to this project as construction begins on this one sometime this autumn and wraps up on their current project.

So it’s not job creation per se, but more of a job transfer. Or a job shuffle. Shuffling 291 jobs from one construction project over to another one.

And to be clear, it’s a good thing that these 291 workers still have work. At least for the next 2.5 years or so.

Now, while it’s a good thing this one medical centre is getting their power and electrical systems upgraded, upgrading these systems does very little to increase care capacity.

The number of hospital acute beds in Calgary at the end of March 2020 was 2,189 (p. 122). That’s for the entire city, not just the Foothills Medical Centre.

Last year, Calgary had 2,181 hospital acute beds (p. 146), an increase of only 8 new acute beds over the previous year, or 0.37%. That’s not even enough to cover the population increase of the city between 2018 and 2019 (1.8%).

And there were no new beds created for psychiatric acute care, neonatal intensive care, intensive care, sub-acute in acute care, or palliative in acute care last year.

The previous year (2018–2019), hospital acute care beds in Calgary increased from 2,169 in 2017 to 2,181. That’s a 0.55% increase, but still far shy of the 2.0% increase in population that year.

Plus, the Calgary Zone, despite having the largest population in the province, doesn’t have the most acute beds. Edmonton has 230 more acute beds than Calgary does. Based on 2017 population data, the Edmonton Zone has 1.83 acute beds per 1000 persons, while Calgary has only 1.41 per 1,000 persons.

Here’s how the other zones compare:

Acute beds per 1000
Central Zone2.01
North Zone1.95
South Zone1.76

Calgary literally has the lowest hospital acute beds, based on population, than any other health zone in the province.

If Calgary were to get to the same level as the South Zone, it’d need about 2,731 beds, an increase of 551 from its current level. And that’s assuming only 2017 population data.

To get it to the same level as the Central Zone—the highest in the province—the Calgary Zone would need about 3,119 beds. That’s almost 1,000 more beds than they currently have.

To get to the same level as the average of 1.89 of the 4 other zones, it’d need about 2,929 beds, or 748 more beds than it has now.

Upgrading 50-year-old power systems is important, but the UCP government must do more than that to improve health care in Calgary. And the rest of the province for that matter.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news stories, focusing on politics and labour.

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