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Alberta government mothballing south Edmonton hospital 'senseless': health advocates

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Alberta's budget doesn't even come close to addressing residents' health-care needs now or in the future, workers and advocates said Friday.

And nowhere is that more apparent than in the province's capital city, they say.

While the Alberta government in the 2024 budget tabled Thursday pledges an increase in provincial health-care funding, the 4.4-per-cent bump to $26.2 billion the system received is not nearly enough to address urgent needs in the system, Chris Galloway, the executive director of Friends in Medicare, said to media following the budget's introduction.

"We absolutely need to be investing in public services," he said Thursday at the Alberta legislature.

"We didn't see that investment today."

Finance Minister Nate Horner in his address to media before tabling the budget said his government "knows health care is the top priority of Albertans" and that it's steering funding "to force specialized areas to drive improvement and find new, better ways to meet the needs of each patient."

None of that funding is being directed at the construction of a long-planned new Edmonton hospital.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Adriana LaGrange on Tuesday, during an announcement of $21 million in government funding for planning a standalone Stollery Children's Hospital, said the province is pausing work on the South Edmonton hospital "to have a more comprehensive look at how we can better serve the needs of Edmontonians."

On Thursday, officials said the province had already spent $69 million on work for the facility that had been earmarked for a 320-acre site in southwest Edmonton's Rutherford area.

The Opposition NDP on Tuesday called the "cancellation" of the hospital a move that "recklessly puts Albertans’ lives at risk."

Dr. Paul Parks, president of physicians' advocate group the Alberta Medical Association, on Friday called it "devastating."

"There's objective data showing that the Edmonton Zone's the most overcrowded and in the most need of capacity in the sense of a new hospital, new hospital beds and of course, long term care and a whole bunch of the other pieces," Parks told CTV News Edmonton.

"We're going to advocate firmly that I hope this is just a short pause while they're trying to figure out where do they place the hospital ... We can't delay. It's desperately needed."

Galloway said the province's budget for health care comes "nowhere close" to addressing needs now or in the future, pointing to Alberta's rapid population growth over the last two years, a trend that's expected to continue.

He said not only is the province in a health-care infrastructure deficit, it desperately needs additional workers to address the "staffing crisis" and meet residents' needs.

"We are hundreds of beds behind in the Edmonton region already, that's from (Alberta Health Services') own documents," Galloway said.

"To stop a hospital they'd already put money into is senseless to see that kind of pause ... The government loves to talk about this record population growth, but we haven't built a hospital in Edmonton for over 35 years, so you can't brag about people coming to Edmonton, coming to Alberta, and then not build the services and infrastructure they need to live here, to not have those hospitals, to not have schools."

Horner, in his pre-budget remarks, said more doctors are being recruited to the province and is developing a new compensation model for nurse practitioners, among other efforts to bolster long-term care and mental health and addictions support.

"I think, from what I've been briefed by Minister LaGrange, she's confident — through their refocusing efforts and kind of a changing direction and focusing more on the front lines and serving the patient — that she's going to be able to deploy those funds more efficiently in the future," Horner said.

Dr. Darren Markland, an intensive-care physician at Edmonton's Royal Alexandra Hospital, told CTV News Edmonton while from "the outside" the budget appears to show money being put into primary care, long-term care and new models, "we're actually looking at a five-to-eight-per-cent (decline) in funding" adjusted by ongoing inflation.

"We have 1.8 beds per 1,000 people — that's lower than anywhere in the country. The average is about 2.6," said Markland, pointing out that the Grey Nuns hospital in Mill Woods, which opened in 1988, was the last new hospital built in Edmonton.

"We need spaces. The biggest issue that hits the news are wait lists for surgeries. Without a hospital, you can open all the private surgical places you want, you have no place to put people who have complications or the diseases that lead up to those surgeries."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Nicole Weisberg 

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