Calls grow for province to fully commit to Red Deer hospital expansion after patient dies in ER

Some are calling for the province to move forward with an expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital after a patient died while waiting in the emergency room on Sunday.

AHS investigating after patient died while waiting in the emergency room Sunday

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre serves nearly half a million people in central Alberta. It regularly operates over 100 per cent capacity. (Red Deer Regional Health Foundation)

Some are calling for an expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital after a patient died while waiting in the emergency room on Sunday.

The death happened on the same weekend the hospital saw an influx of COVID-19 and other seriously ill patients and estimated wait times spiked to 14 hours.

Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston said he's concerned about the state of the hospital, which is the fourth busiest in the province, serving close to half a million people in central Alberta.

"I really feel a sense of grief today," Johnston said.

"When is it our turn? When is it going to be resolved for the population of central Alberta here?"

Doctors and politicians have been calling for an expansion to the hospital for years. 

The provincial government committed to provide $100 million in funding to support expansion and refurbishment of the hospital in 2020.

But in the 2021 provincial budget, it earmarked just $59 million over three years for the first stage of the hospital expansion. Renovations to the hospital were pegged at a price tag of around $750 million a number of years ago.

Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston says the recent episode at Red Deer Regional Hospital should prompt renewed resolution around how health care is delivered in central Alberta. (CBC News)

The hospital regularly runs over capacity, with a 2015 AHS report showing the hospital was short 96 in-patient and 18 emergency room beds at that time.

Ricky Lundy with the Open Arms Patient Advocacy Society said COVID-19 has magnified problems that already existed in Alberta's health-care system, adding the province needs to take stock.

"When the system is taxed like it is, it's not good for anybody. The problem is the end user is the patient, and the patient is the one who suffers the most, and that's what we see here," Lundy said.

In an email, a spokesperson for the minister of infrastructure said the provincial government remains committed to expanding the hospital.

"We recognize the importance of expanding and upgrading the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, to meet the long-term needs of citizens in Red Deer and central Alberta — a region too-often ignored under the previous NDP government," said Hadyn Place in an email.

Dr. Keith Wolstenholme, an orthopedic surgeon, says the hospital needs an infrastructure commitment and a solution in the meantime. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Place said that while it is too early to say what will be included in the upcoming budget, a full business case has been submitted for consideration.

Dr. Keith Wolstenholme, an orthopedic surgeon at the hospital, said the situation presents more evidence that people in central Alberta have been "negatively disadvantaged by their access to health care."

"This is real life, and there's real consequences to chronic infrastructure deficits, and that's unfortunately what we're seeing," he said.

With files from Jennifer Lee


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