Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Health construction in Alberta may be delayed, says minister
Health Minister Ron Liepert said Monday some health construction projects in Alberta, such as new hospitals, could be delayed or altered in the face of cost overruns and shrinking government revenues.
Alberta Health and the new medical superboard are reviewing the province's health capital plan--which includes $4 billion in projects over the next three years --before allowing the Tory caucus to decide what should proceed, he said.
"There will have to be some decisions made that some things will go ahead, some will go ahead in a different model than what they'd originally thought and there may be some that can't go ahead at all," said Liepert, in a telephone interview.
But critics said the province should not cancel capital projects in the face of a recession.
The Alberta Liberals argued the province should spend the money to build badly needed hospitals, which would also create construction jobs and stimulate Alberta's sagging economy.
"It's appropriate to review (capital projects), but it's not appropriate to hold back at this time when we need a decisive, bold plan to deal with a recession," said David Swann, the Alberta Liberal leader.
It appears, however, some construction work is already stalled.
Liepert said several projects are on hold for now, as is the case in High Prairie, where government had previously committed $60 million for a new hospital. Bids for the project came in at twice that amount.
In Grande Prairie, work on a long-awaited new hospital has not started and won't until the review is complete.
The minister said construction is proceeding as planned on the south Calgary hospital.
Liepert said it's necessary to review the capital plan because falling oil and gas revenues have eliminated the provincial surplus this year. In recent years, government has allocated a portion of the surplus to pay for construction cost overruns.
Liepert said the capital plan must also be reviewed in light of his move to reform health care in the province. For example, Alberta is moving toward more designated assisted living facilities, in place of traditional nursing homes. He said planned long-term care facilities in locations such as Didsbury and Strath-more need to be reassessed to determine whether they require structural changes under the new model.
The minister said he also wanted to ex-amine proposals for new cancer centres in Calgary and Edmonton, which have not yet been included in the province's health capital plan.
Alberta Health Services officials con-firmed Monday they are reviewing capital projects, but wouldn't say whether any would be cancelled or changed.
"It's part of our discussions with Alberta Health as part of the (spring)budget process," said Mark Kastner, a spokesman with the health superboard.
Liepert said he hopes to bring a proposal for a capital plan to caucus before this year's budget.
Health-care lobby groups reacted with disappointment to the minister's comments, saying the cost of construction projects should be going down now that Alberta's overheated economy is cooling off.
"This is a great time to invest in your social infrastructure," said Dave Eggen of Friends of Medicare.
News that the government could delay or change health capital projects comes after reports last week suggested the province may cut public funding for some health services such as chiropractic care and wart removal.
Employment Minister Hector Goudreau told constituents in Grimshaw that the government is looking at delisting about 30 services from medicare that don't require coverage under the Canada Health Act.