New funding only pays for planning - not renovations - at Edmonton hospitals

A health advocate is questioning why this week’s budget offered no immediate funds for renovations at two aging hospitals in Edmonton, repairs the NDP referred to as urgent a few months ago.

Renovations on hold at Edmonton hospitals despite NDP's earlier warning work is 'overdue'

Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason listens to questions from reporters about the Misrecordia on Wednesday. (Richard Marion/CBC)

A public health advocate is questioning why this week's Alberta budget offered no immediate funds for renovations at two aging hospitals in Edmonton, repairs the NDP referred to as "overdue" just a few months ago.

Tuesday's budget set aside $20 million for development "planning" at the Royal Alexandra and Misericordia hospitals.

Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci said during an interview on CBC's Edmonton AM radio show the money will help provide a better understanding of future needs at the hospitals, but it's not being used for renovations.

"It's not for building. It's for planning to scope out what exactly needs to happen," he said.

Friends of Medicare president Sandra Azocar said she hopes the government will find the money soon within unallocated budget funds, a total of just over $4 billion. 

"They need some of that money to start the process of building the 2,000 public long-term care beds they had talked about. But I also see that money possibly and hopefully going toward more urgent projects, like repairs." she said.

"We're counting that this government is willing to actually follow through for once. And actually have a definite plan of when to start building and when these facilities will be completed, in a realistic way."

Notley slammed PCs for overdue upgrade

Less than a month ago, Alberta Health Services revealed an extensive plan for repairs and renovations needed at the Royal Alex, including an acute care tower with 800 new beds, a new child and adolescent mental health building and renovations to diagnostic treatment centres.

Phase one and two for that project are estimated to cost $2.75 billion, taking 10 years to complete. That funding has not been approved by the province.

The Misericordia is also desperately in need of updating and is also getting money for blueprints instead of bricks and mortar. The NDP budget counters what the party promised in recent weeks. 

In March, the party skewered then-premier Jim Prentice's plan to spend $3.4 billion on health facilities over five years.

That spending included redevelopment of the Royal Alex and renovations and expansion of the Grey Nuns and Misericordia hospitals. Premier Rachel Notley said at the time the money was just a "drop in the bucket." 

Notley criticized the PC government for only committing to renovate the Misericordia instead of replacing it. She said then that a replacement should have been done a decade ago.

At a media event Wednesday, Alberta Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason defended the decision to plan before pushing ahead with building. 

"The previous government would make their announcements for political reasons and then design to the announcement instead of doing the work to assess what the needs were," he said. 

"We want to make sure we have the right facility, for the right size."

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman reiterated her government's commitment to spend $2.2 billion on health care facilities over the next five years. She said $652 million will go toward maintenance.