Earlier this month, the Alberta government announced that they’d be spending $50 million on modernizing and improving rural health facilities in the province.
The province plans to spend $32.25 million over the next 3 years on 15 projects spread throughout all 5 health zones.
The projects include renovating emergency rooms, medical laboratories, medical device reprocessing areas, and even building a new EMS station.
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They report that they also plan to spend $10 million on demolishing decommissioned health facilities to prepare sites for future development.
By my calculations, that comes to only $42.25 million. Unless they’re counting the $5 million that they have yet to allocate and are carrying into future budgets. That brings it to $47.25 million; although, that’s technically postponing, not spending.
Anyhow, these projects sound like much needed projects, and the communities who’ll be receiving them are likely happy they’ll finally have upgraded health facilities.
Funding will be coming out of the Rural Health Facilities Revitalization Fund, a programme the UCP government established when they announced their first budget in 2019.
Oddly, according to the 2021–2022 budget, the RHFRF has only $15 million allocated to each of the next 3 budget years, so it’s unclear where the remaining $2.25 million will be coming from, or why the UCP even think they have $5 million in unspent funds in this programme.
Even so, spending $15 million a year on capital projects (such as upgrading health facilities) certainly seems like a positive thing.
Here’s the thing though.
The Rural Health Facilities Revitalization Program is listed in the 2021–2022 budget under the Protect Quality Health Care portion of the capital plan.
Total capital spending listed under Protect Quality Health Care for 2021–2022 is $796 million. Sounds good, right? If you like that, you’re going to like this: next year, that number jumps up to $840 million.
Pretty sweet, eh?
In the 2023–2024 budget year, they estimate cutting it by over $200 million compared to 2021–2022 and by $250 million compared to 2022–2023.
They plan to spend only $590 on “protecting quality health care” in two years. Maybe quality health care needs less protecting in 2023–2024?
When you average out total spending for the next 3 years, it comes to about $742 million a year. In last year’s budget, total spending on protecting quality health care averaged $834 million a year.
By comparison, the NDP’s last budget had a section called “Health Facilities and Equipment” in their capital plan. They planned to spend an average of $941 million per year on health-related capital projects during what ended up being the UCP’s first 4 years.
Let’s compare the two health capital spending plans:
That works out to be an average of $941.25 million per year under the NDP’s plan amd $722.25 million per year under the UCP’s plan.
Now, to be fair, last February, the UCP adjusted their capital spending plan for the final 3 years of this 4-year period: $863 million (2020–2021), $802 million (2021–2022), and $836 million (2022–2023).
Even so, at an annual spending rate of $833.67 million, the adjusted average annual spending is still more than $100 million less than the NDP had planned.
For the 2021–2022 budget, the UCP further adjusted the final two years of this period to $796 million (2021–2022) and $840 million (2022–2023). They added $590 million for 2023–2024. As I mentioned earlier, that brings their average annual spending rate to $742 million. That’s more than their first budget but less than last year’s and nearly $200 million less per year than the NDP’s budget.
So, while it’s a good thing that the UCP government is spending $50 million on modernizing and improving rural health facilities in the province, that amount could’ve been much higher.