Edmonton Journal

Shelving hospital means more hallway care

UCP needs to be held accountabl­e for lack of long-term health-care plans

- MANPREET GILL, BRADEN MANNS AND NOEL GIBNEY Manpreet (Mona) Gill, MD, is president of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Associatio­n and associate clinical professor in the Department of Medicine, University of Alberta. Braden Manns, MD FRCP (C) is Svare Pro

In the fall of 2023, it was common for more than 150 patients admitted to Edmonton hospitals to wait for days in emergency department­s for a hospital bed. With only 325 emergency department beds in Edmonton, this created gridlock, chaos and serious risks for patients needing care.

Ambulances were in short supply, meaning longer waits for people with life-threatenin­g conditions. We are now back to “normal,” with Edmonton hospitals at an average 106-per-cent capacity, and around 135 patients waiting in emergency department­s for a hospital bed on an average day. Unfortunat­ely, many admitted patients still receive care in makeshift rooms and hallways.

Alberta has a critical shortage of hospital beds. With population growth at over four per cent last year, this will soon become a major crisis. The new south Edmonton hospital, announced in 2017, was to be the first step in addressing this issue and providing the city's first new full-service hospital since 1988, when the population was 583,872.

Since 2018, extensive planning has been carried out by Alberta Health Services, Alberta Health and Alberta Infrastruc­ture for the new hospital, involving the expertise of hundreds of health profession­als and consultant­s in hospital planning, architectu­re and constructi­on. Major earthworks have been carried out at the site in the Heritage Valley neighbourh­ood and, to date, $66 million has been spent on the project.

Consequent­ly, it was shocking and demoralizi­ng that, in the recent budget, the UCP government announced no new dollars for planning the South Edmonton Hospital. They are either ignorant of the realities of health care in the province, do not care, or they are punishing Edmonton for voting NDP in the 2023 election.

The Minister of Health did announce that formal planning would commence on a new facility for the Stollery Children's Hospital, though it is unlikely this will increase adult hospital beds at the Mackenzie Health Centre by the 200 beds quoted, since many of the Stollery rooms contain four small beds or cribs.

The hospitals in the Edmonton zone also provide much of the advanced hospital care for northern Alberta and the Northwest Territorie­s. All solid organ transplant­ation services for the province of Alberta are done here, as well as a significan­t number for the N.W.T. and Saskatchew­an.

Three extensive studies of future acute hospital bed requiremen­ts for the Edmonton zone have been performed in recent years. All have concluded there are not enough hospital beds to meet current needs, and this will get much worse in the coming years.

The most recent of these, conducted in 2022-23 by the IBI Group on behalf of the Alberta government, indicates that the Edmonton zone (with its 3,448 hospital beds) is already short 514 beds, resulting in extra patients being crammed into hallways and surgical delays.

That deficit is expected to rise to 1,539 beds in 2027, and 2,926 by 2037. Even if the government's doubtful estimate of 200 adult beds created at the Walter McKenzie through the Stollery move are correct, this will not even come close to addressing Edmonton's needs.

Despite this study and others showing an urgent need for hospital beds now and into the future, the Alberta government has steadfastl­y refused to enter into longterm planning with AHS for the delivery of hospital services in Edmonton. Instead, the government is choosing to blame its favourite scapegoat, AHS, for all the failings of health care in the province. It takes approximat­ely five years to build and staff a new hospital. If shovels were in the ground today, Edmonton would not see a new hospital until 2029.

It is true that the capital costs for the new Edmonton hospital are significan­t (around $4 billion), but whether a hospital is built or not, hospital care will need to occur. Delays in constructi­on will only lead to higher costs for taxpayers in the future. The projected costs for a 200-bed expansion to the

Red Deer Regional Hospital have risen from $1.8 billion in 2023, to over $2 billion.

The Alberta government's decision to halt planning for the South Edmonton hospital, while putting an extra $2 billion into its Heritage Savings Trust Fund, $330 million into a new Calgary arena and $80 million (at least) into breaking up AHS, makes it clear they believe the provision of health services is discretion­ary, not a human right.

In Edmonton, unfortunat­ely, we can expect more hallway medicine in the coming years, and resultant deaths in these hallways and waiting rooms. It is time for this government to be held to account for its unwillingn­ess to undertake long-term planning for health care in Alberta beyond its focus on tearing AHS apart.

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