Province commits $100M toward long-awaited improvements to Red Deer hospital

The provincial government will provide $100 million in funding to support expansion and refurbishment of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre — the first step in a development advocates have been requesting for years.

“Let it be known that the people have been heard,” said mayor Tara Veer, speaking during a press conference Wednesday. “This victory belongs to the people of Red Deer and central Alberta.”

The Red Deer hospital is the only regional referral centre for the central health zone, which means about 50 per cent of patients seen at the hospital do not live in the community.

The facility has frequently operated over capacity and often has fewer beds available than is required.

“This hospital has been operating, I gather, at 100 per cent of its capacity, or more, for some time. As things now stand, this is a difficult burden for everyone to bear,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney during the conference.

Kenney said the first phase of the expansion will involve a $100 million commitment, but that full figure will not be represented in the provincial budget. 

The province will also commit $5 million toward consultations with Red Deer residents to determine the priorities and services residents expect as part of phase one.

Construction work is expected to begin in 2021, Kenney said. 

“I have given instruction to our relevant ministers and the public service to accelerate this work as quickly as possible, more quickly than what will be reflected in the budget documents tomorrow,” he said. 

It’s unclear what services will be initially prioritized, but previous studies have suggested increasing in-patient beds, operating rooms and expanding cardiac services.

‘A very important step’

Kym Jim, a doctor based in Red Deer and member of the Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta, said his group was “extremely happy” to hear about the announcement.

“We think it is a very important step in delivering to central Alberta what central Alberta needs, in terms of healthcare infrastructure,” Jim said. “We recognize, though, that it really only is a first step … we would also point out that it really only is a small amount of what needs to be done in central Alberta.”

Renovations to the hospital were pegged at a price tag of around $750 million a number of years ago — but Jim said the total figure could end up being higher than that.

Dr. Kym Jim, a member of the Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta, called the province’s announcement an important first step. (Jennifer Lee/CBC News)

“We’re very pleased with the announcement, but at the same time we’ll see this through to the point that there is a planned, funded, built and operational hospital here in central Alberta that can tend to the needs of the citizens of central Alberta,” he said.

Cardiac catheterization​​​​​ lab

Doctors, including Jim, have been pushing for the addition of a cardiac catheterization lab at the hospital for years, but it’s unclear whether this first phase of upgrades would move the needle on that front.

“I think that initially when we had heard things, it sounded like they were committing to a [catheterization] lab, but I’m not entirely sure they committed to that,” Jim said.

During Wednesday’s press conference, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said a catheterization lab was a part of the renovation plans, but a timetable was uncertain.

“That’s going to have to happen in the design process. We’re going to have to answer those questions,” Shandro said. “That’s why, as the premier said, we want to make sure we’re doing it as quickly as we can.”

Despite the uncertainty surrounding which projects might be prioritized, Jim said he was pleased to say the process would be expedited.

“There are many, many needed services here … so we’re not here to prioritize one project over another project,” he said. “We would be pleased to see a commitment that was firm on any of those things.”