Calgary Herald

Alberta expected to shelve $200M women’s hospital

- JEN GERSON

Plans for a multimilli­ondollar maternity hospital have been shelved, according to a senior physician, as Alberta Health Services announced an $11.6-million expansion to a gynecologi­cal and obstetrics unit at Peter Lougheed Centre.

The funding will upgrade the hospital to redevelop the neonatal intensive-care unit and labour facilities, and to build a dedicated operating room.

However, plans dating from 2007 for a $200-million maternity hospital to cope with Calgary’s ongoing demographi­c-born baby boom are apparently not going forward.

“It would have been a very nice acquisitio­n for the city, but my understand­ing is that that’s no longer an option,” said Dr. Doug Wilson, the Alberta Health Services department head of obstetrics and gynecology.

He said he did not know why the plans were abandoned and other government officials were not available for comment.

The hospital, which would have been built next to the Alberta Children’s Hospital, was listed as in the planning stages in the 2009 health and wellness capital plan.

Full funding for the facility had not been secured.

Now, to handle an increased need for maternity beds, Dr. Wilson said: “We probably will need some sort of re-look at the Foothills as well as Rockyview as well as South Health Campus. The numbers, I think, need to be worked on.”

Calgary has struggled with maternity bed capacity since the boom began about five years ago. In addition to demographi­cs and an increasing population resulting from a strong economy, critics said the lack of maternity beds has been exacerbate­d by the closure of the Calgary General Hospital and the Holy Cross.

AHS said 18,000 babies are born in the city annually, a number that is expected to increase to 20,600 by 2015.

After the improvemen­ts, the Peter Lougheed Centre is expected to increase its annual maternity capacity to 7,000 births per year, from 5,835.

Under the previous plans, which were created by the pre-amalgamati­on Calgary Health Region, the obstetric services at Foothills were to be closed and labouring mothers sent to the new facility in the northwest. That hospital was slated to handle between 6,500 and 7,000 newborns every year.

The maternal hospital was “a very high priority for us because of the dramatic increase in birth rate,” Jack Davis told the Herald in 2007, when he was the CHR’s chief executive. “It looks like this will be a high growth area for a number of years.”

According to Liberal opposition leader David Swann, the maternity ward at Foothills is already operating at twice its capacity, and the expansion to Peter Lougheed Centre will likely not make up for the additional need.

“This is certainly going to help us provide an expanded service, but there’s still some room to grow and the South Health campus will provide some additional support for that,” Dr. Wilson said.

The nearly $12-million announceme­nt for the Peter Lougheed Centre will only cover the cost of the physical upgrade; it does not include funding for doctors or nurses, Dr. Wilson said.

The lack of funding for staff also follows the AHS’s modus operandi, Swann said.

“This shell game has been not only a shame, but also a huge creator of cynicism and anger,” he said. “Without knowing the extent of the need (for new maternity beds), it’s hard to say whether these extra beds will be fully operationa­l and fully staffed and to what extent they will meet the need.”

With Calgary’s maternity wards operating at over or near capacity, said Dave Eggen, executive director of Friends of Medicare, the city needed the proposed hospital.

“It wasn’t just to serve the metro of more than one million in Calgary; it was part of the larger regional plan for southern Alberta. Especially for complicati­ons,” he said, adding Thursday’s announceme­nt is another example of moving one step forward and two steps back. “The government uses announceme­nts to expand health care to prop up their own circumstan­ces, but in reality they have not moved forward at all in the last two years.”

New mothers are often being asked to leave the hospital less than 24 hours after giving birth to open new beds. Dr. Wilson said that practice “will continue as long as the birth rate in Calgary continues to rise.”

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