Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Infrastructure spending

— The province unveiled a three-year plan to build and update health care facilities in 15 rural and mid-size communities Wednesday, at a cost of $1.25-billion between now and 2013.

“We are acting now,” Infrastructure Minister Ray Danyluk said. “Our focus will be constructing buildings that work. Buildings that work well for patients, that work well for health professionals, and work well for communities.”

However, the cash promised did not include any projects for Edmonton or Calgary, Alberta’s two largest cities.

Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky said funding promised to this point is the result of months of consultations with people across Alberta. His review of what Edmonton and Calgary need continues.

“This has been a very detailed, very thorough and a very comprehensive process,” Zwozdesky said.

“I came away with a lot of pertinent questions ... I know that we need some more doctors in some communities, I know that we need all sorts of facilities to continue with the pace which Alberta is growing right now. And along with that come the health care needs as well.”

He offered no specific date for announcing Edmonton and Calgary funding, prompting concern from critics who note release of the capital plan’s details is already more than three months behind schedule.

“I don’t want to see one played off against the other,” Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman said of phase the capital plan announcements. “I particularly don’t want to see the metropolitan areas have to pay the price.”

In all, Wednesday’s announcement was supposed to be the next step in constructing and remodelling 22 new — and not so new — hospital and long-term care facilities across the province.

Zwozdesky estimated the capital plan, as currently laid out, will translate to as many as 500 acute care beds and 500 continuing care spaces.

The minister cautioned the 1,000-space boost was a “ballpark,” figure, however. “Some will be new new new, some are replacements, some of them are remodelling, some of them are expansions.”

The projects themselves — like work on the Fort Saskatchewan Health Centre or building the first phase of the Strathcona Hospital in Sherwood Park — would be familiar to most Albertans. Many of the projects now on the government’s to-do list have been announced before, then placed on the province’s back burner for years.

Zwozdesky and Danyluk argued many of the projects were put on hold during the recent economic slowdown.

“We feel confident today, all things being equal, this plan is achievable,” Zwozdesky said.

Pressed to assure people who have been waiting for years for their new hospitals — like Grande Prairie, where Premier Ed Stelmach said Tuesday a new, $520-million facility will get underway three years after it was first announced — the ministers said the capital plan laid out this week can be seen as a money, time and progress commitment.

“Many of these projects have been announced before, and several times,” said David Eggen, president of Friends of Medicare.

He suggested Albertans post the capital plan on their fridge doors to measure whether the government actually follows through. “The proof will be not just shovels in the ground, but health professionals inside, actually delivering health care.”

Blakeman and Eggen — who is expected to run for the NDP in Edmonton-Glenora during the next election — both charged the lengthy list of projects announced Wednesday are a blueprint for the government’s pre-election campaign.



Highlights:

$39-million in additional funding for the Fort Saskatchewan Health Centre, a replacement facility already under construction;

Funding in place for the $520-million Grande Prairie Hospital ($135.4 million of which is listed in the capital plan);

$31.7 million to replace the High Prairie Health Complex and the J.B. Wood Nursing Home (with potential for partnering with Northern Lakes College);

$10,2 million for construction of a new continuing care facility in Lloydminster;

$2.5 million to improve a new medical centre in Peace River;

$42.8 million to expand the Central Alberta Associate Cancer Centre in Red Deer, which includes building new radiation vaults to boost the province’s Lethbridge-Red Deer-Grande Prairie cancer treatment corridor;

$30.6 million to continue construction on the new Strathcona Hospital in Sherwood Park;

$21.6 million to continue expansion and redevelopment of emergency and ambulatory care departments at the Sturgeon Community Hospital in St. Albert;

$700,000 to replace the Good Samaritan Care Centre in Stony Plain.

More to come ...

taudette@thejournal.canwest.com

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