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City's cardiac care is 'a blight'

Red Deer Advocate - 2/19/2020

Human lives are at stake, so the provincial government can't afford to leave a life-saving unit for Red Deer hospital out of the upcoming provincial budget, insists a Red Deer city councillor.

At Tuesday's council meeting, Coun. Ken Johnston called it "a blight on our Canadian health care system," that Red Deer-area residents are continuing to die of heart disease at a 50 to 60 per cent higher rate than Albertans in Calgary or Edmonton because the local hospital continues to lack a cardiac catheterization lab.

"It's not only a doable chunk of money, it is by far the most urgent," Johnston stressed.

While city officials were told the Red Deer hospital expansion will be a huge project that would have to be paid for in phases over a number of years after it's approved, he noted the cardiac catheterization lab can be created quickly from one-time funding.

"We have known for 15 or more years that the hospital is inadequate and it needs a cardiac lab. There has been study after study, discussion after discussion…"

Johnston stressed he doesn't want to hear about the need for more studies after the 2020 provincial budget announcement on Feb. 27 — or that there was no room for a cardiac lab at the hospital.

"We will find a place," he pledged — even if it means moving certain other services out of the hospital temporarily.

"This is causing high anxiety for many families…"

Tuesday, the last city council meeting before the provincial budget is released, Red Deer city councillors discussed municipal advocacy efforts to get the province to respond to local infrastructure and service needs.

Coun. Vesna Higham shared the startling statistic previously announced by a local physicians' group: that Alberta Health Services' central zone got $228 per person in health-care infrastructure dollars from 2008 to 2018 — or 1,000 per cent less than every other part of the province.

"This is shameful, and I hope it's rectified," said Higham.

"We are dealing with the quality of human life," added Coun. Lawrence Lee, who expressed frustration over "bottlenecks" at the hospital's emergency department when multiple ambulances are waiting until beds can be freed up for their patients.

Mayor Tara Veer put Red Deer hospital's deficiencies — including too few beds and operating rooms — in the city's top three needs — along with a 24/7 homeless shelter and more Crown prosecutors to speed up court cases.

Veer said she has emphasized in her meetings with ministers, cabinet and MLAs that Red Deer can't wait any longer for a hospital expansion.

The project is bound to take years of construction, so the mayor would like to see some tangible funding in the budget to at least get the ball moving on it.

As for the justice system: "Red Deer has a high crime rate… the need for more Crown prosecutors is imperative," said Veer.

She was told the province is having a hard time finding enough additional prosecutors, and so is exploring whether articling law students can help fill the spots.

Funding for a 24/7 shelter would alleviate some of the problems homelessness and addiction are causing for downtown businesses, said Veer.

Vulnerable people, many with mental health issues, need more help, and the shelter could prevent the "spillover" that's affecting business owners and shoppers, she added.

Since the shelter project, which had been approved by the previous NDP government and then dropped by the UCP after the last election, is also a more doable expense, the mayor is hoping to see funds for it in the budget.

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