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UCP govt to expand Red Deer hospital before 2031

In an announcement made by Jason Kenney yesterday, the Alberta government plans to spend nearly $2 billion on the expansion over the decade.

Yesterday, the Government of Alberta announced that it plans to spend nearly $2 billion on expanding the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

The announcement for the $1.8 billion project was low on details, but there were a few things we can pull out of it.

The announcement claims that this will be the largest hospital expansion in Alberta’s history. By comparison, the Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge was expanded in 2015 and 2016 with a project cost of about $135 million, less than a tenth of what the Red Deer project will cost.

When it’s complete, the Red Deer expansion should add in an additional 200 new in-patient beds, 3 more operating rooms, and a new cardiac catheterization lab.

But when will it be complete exactly? Well, not until the 2031–2032 budget year, so basically another decade. That means that the government predicts spending roughly $180 million a year on average towards the project.

In 2020, they announced $100 million in funding to finalize the project scope, construction schedule, and operating budget of the project that had been on the books since at least 2014.

According Alberta Health Services’ 2020 MultiYear Health Facility Infrastructure Capital Submission, a master plan was completed for the facility in 2014. The plan recommended the construction of a new inpatient tower and the simultaneous expansion of supporting services.

A year later, the NDP government completed a major capital needs assessment, which validated the 2014 master plan recommendations. According to the needs assessment, the Red Deer hospital had not been meeting AHS performance measure targets for emergency room wait times or length of stay, and they had longer wait times for surgical procedures. Plus beds had been operating at capacity for years, and the hospital was facing increasing pressure in acuity as it continued growing in its role as a regional referral centre.

According to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, the hospital expansion had been been identified as 4th in a list of 17 infrastructure priorities of the provincial government. Yet, for some reason, the project disappeared from AHS’ 2016 Multi-Year Facility Infrastructure Capital Submission.

The NDP government, after much pressure from the community, including doctors in the area, put the $750-million expansion back on the priorities list at the end of 2018, just a few months before the 2019 provincial election.

In the 2020–2021 fiscal budget, the UCP government projected spending $5 million in 2021–2022 and $20 million in 2022–2023 toward the project. They didn’t say what it was for, but I assume it’s part of the $100 million they promised to spend on having consultants finalize the project scope, construction schedule, and operating budget.

In last year’s budget, they dropped the 2022–2023 amount by $1 million and added another $35 million for the following year, 2023–2024. Again, there were no details on where that $35 million would be spent.

Yesterday’s announcement of the new $1.8-billion expansion would start with only $193 million over the next 3 years; although, again, the details were sparse on what that would cover. However, it does say that “next steps include functional programming and design”, so we might even be years away from actually starting on construction.

Also, the end of the announcement said, “$100 million was allocated to the project in Budget 2020”, so I assume that this previous funding will be part of the $1.8 billion in total funding, not separate. Which means this is really an announcement is for an additional $1.7 billion.

I guess it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that this announcement comes leading into Jason Kenney’s leadership review in April and as part of what could be the UCP’s last budget before next year’s provincial election.

The handy thing about it being a 10-year project is that if the UCP win another majority government in 2023, it’ll still give them time to use the project again as a carrot to entice voters in 2027.

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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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