Calgary Herald

Ensuring hospitals maintained properly is crucial: NDP

- KEITH GEREIN keithgerei­n

Crumbling hospital elevators, roofs, boilers and pipes are set to receive more attention over the next five years as the provincial government increases spending on its health maintenanc­e program.

“I realize talking about maintenanc­e and renewal is not as interestin­g as talking about the opening of a shiny new hospital, but it is the meat-and-potatoes work that ensures our health facilities are safe and operating well,” Infrastruc­ture Minister Brian Mason said Friday. “For far too long, not enough emphasis has been placed on ensuring our health facilities have been properly maintained.”

The NDP government’s latest budget earmarks $760 million over the next five years for maintenanc­e projects in the health sector, including $131 million this year. That’s expected to pay for about 520 projects across the province in 201617, such as new nurse call systems in Red Deer and Westlock, lab renovation­s in Claresholm and Barrhead, and hot water upgrades in Brooks and Oyen.

“These projects don’t tend to get a lot of attention but they are absolutely essential,” Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said. “We will not repeat the mistakes of the past. We will allow our health infrastruc­ture to be maintained instead of having it continue to deteriorat­e.”

The value of deferred maintenanc­e in Alberta’s health facilities has been pegged anywhere from $600 million to more than $1 billion. The Journal’s Condition Critical investigat­ion published in 2014 drew attention to the issue, uncovering numerous examples of how the province’s aging collection of hospitals had suffered from chronic underfundi­ng.

Hoffman said the former PC government devoted insufficie­nt sums — about $70 million a year — to repairs of health facilities, although the final Conservati­ve budget created under Jim Prentice planned to dramatical­ly boost spending.

She said Edmonton’s share of this year’s funding should allow about 130 projects to go ahead. Among them will be a $4-million initiative to create an expanded rapid transfer unit at University Hospital.

The current unit was opened in 2014 as a pilot project designed to take pressure off the emergency department. Patients brought to hospital by ambulance can be dropped off there, allowing crews to get back on the road rather than waiting for hours with their patients.

The unit can also take patients waiting to be admitted or discharged, freeing up space in emergency and hospital wards.

While the government committed, in its latest budget, $1.2 billion to build a new cancer centre in Calgary, proposed redevelopm­ents of the Royal Alexandra and Misericord­ia hospitals in Edmonton received just $10 million each for planning.

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