Thursday, May 14, 2009

Alberta to consult with rural communities before closing any health facilities
32 minutes ago
EDMONTON — Alberta will consult with people in rural communities before closing or changing any of their medical facilities, Health Minister Ron Liepert says.
Liepert's pledge Thursday was sparked by a leaked Alberta Health Services medical staff newsletter that outlined a proposal to downgrade 10 hospitals in central Alberta to urgent care centres.
The March 31 letter, released by Friends of Medicare, also mentioned closing three long-term care facilities.
Liepert tried to discredit the letter, calling it outdated, but later acknowledged that changes are being considered across the province to reduce health costs and make the system more efficient.
"Before there is any change to the facilities in these communities, the community will be consulted and it will be discussed," he said.
Liepert said Alberta Health Services has already begun looking at the system and officials will visit communities throughout the province this summer. He said members of the legislature will be involved in the process.
Liepert was adamant that no final decisions about any health facilities have been made and accused the Opposition and the Friends of Medicare of fear-mongering.
"There is nothing that I'm aware of relative to any change in status of any of the facilities around the province," he said.
"If at some point in time there is, we have committed that where there will be a change in the status of their facility, there will be prior engagement with that community."
The newsletter outlines a plan to downgrade hospitals in Rimbey, Ponoka, Lacombe, Innisfail, Castor, Coronation, Consort, Sundre, Three Hills and Hanna to urgent care centres.
Long-term care facilities cited for closure in the document are located in Bentley, Trochu and Breton.
The six-week-old letter notes that the proposal had not yet been approved by the new Alberta Health Services superboard.
Dave Eggen of Friends of Medicare and New Democrat Leader Brian Mason said Albertans shouldn't have to rely on leaked documents to get information about the health-care system they depend on.
Mason said the proposed rural hospital changes cited in the letter, and word that elective surgeries are being reduced at least one urban hospital, are reasons for concern. Some doctors have reported than some cancer operations have been delayed.
Mason said the government owes it to the public to be more open about its health-care plans.
"It looks to me that they do have plans to substantially cut back our health-care system, especially in rural Alberta," he said.
"They haven't told the public. We depend on leaks now from doctors and health-care professionals to find out what the government is doing because they keep their plans hidden."
Premier Ed Stelmach reiterated that his government must do what it can to control rising health-care costs, especially when faced with the world economic downturn that has taken a big chunk out of Alberta's revenues.
Stelmach said Alberta already spends more per person on health-care than any other province.
The government must find out where its health dollars are going and where changes can be made to make the system more efficient, he said, adding that he expects similar documents will be leaked to the media in the coming months.
"We are going to have a lot more of that, people positioning themselves, because this is a very sensitive topic," Stelmach said.
"It has been in the past, and it will be in the future. We have a huge task ahead of ourselves."
Copyright © 2009 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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