Competition for infrastructure dollars pits Catholic hospitals against AHS

Lobbying for precious capital healthcare dollars that’s usually done behind the scenes, has now gone public with competing demands from Alberta Health Services (AHS), and the Catholic run Covenant Health.

'I wish work would have been done on these facilities when oil was $100 a barrel,' health minister says

The Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation mounted a campaign to gain public support for much needed repairs and additions. (supplied)

Lobbying for billions in precious capital health-care dollars — work that's usually done behind the scenes — has now gone public with competing demands from Alberta Health Services and the Catholic-run Covenant Health.

In a non-ranked capital plan submitted to Health Minister Sarah Hoffman in early October, 2016, AHS identified 21 priority projects, including several for the central Edmonton Royal Alexandra Hospital and a scaled-back enhancement for the west Edmonton Misericordia Hospital.

In response to the muted recommendation from AHS, Covenant Health, which operates the Misericordia and several other facilities across Alberta, submitted its own plan directly to Health Minister Sarah Hoffman in December.

Having abandoned its long held request for a brand-new Misericordia, Covenant Health put forward a vision to serve the community with a revamped modern hospital "for the next 40 years," president and CEO Patrick Dumelie said Monday.

Patrick Dumelie, President and CEO of Catholic run Covenant Health is hoping a direct pitch to the Health Minister will result in much needed fixes to the Misericordia hospital. (Covenant Health)

"In terms of what we submitted, I think it really expands on what was in that document," Dumelie said, referring to the AHS advice to the health minister.

Rather than build an entirely new hospital, Dumelie says the revamped plan uses existing infrastructure.

"We would build a brand-new emergency department, something we need today. And then build a brand-new bed tower and use the existing Misericordia hospital for operating rooms, pharmacy, labs and diagnostics."

But the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation, through its public appeal campaign, is pleading its case for the biggest share of capital funding.The campaign is built around a puppet designed to look like a crumbling hospital.

"Everyone is championing for what they feel is important," said Andrew Otway, president of the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation.

"There is a significant infrastructure deficit the government has inherited," Otway added. As the "busiest and biggest hospital in Alberta," the Royal Alexandra has long been identified as a priority facility in the health-care delivery system, he noted.

"It would be unfortunate if it ever came down to perhaps a competition," between the Royal Alex foundation and Covenant Health, Otway added.

Public squabble

But a health policy researcher from the University of Alberta says it has come down to a competition.

"We really do have a squabble between the two of them, whether it's public or not," said nursing professor Donna Wilson.

"The reality is both of them are trying to get funding, and you wonder who's going to make this decision. And it raises a lot of other concerns too."

The squabble is a clear indication of a gap in long-term planning for health-care needs, she said.

Hoffman said the dual pitches are evidence of the infrastructure neglect that occurred under the previous government.

"I wish work would have been done on these facilities when oil was $100 a barrel.The last government didn't do that work," Hoffman said.

"We're here now, the dollar is what it is, and we need to move forward responsibly, making sure we're taking care of our assets." 

The next provincial budget will be introduced in March.