Overflow crowds turn out for State of the Hospital meeting

By Josh Hall (Twitter: @Vancan19)
February 28, 2017 - 8:57pm Updated: March 1, 2017 - 2:19pm

The diagnosis is critical, and the numbers are staggering.

Hundreds of fed-up people filled a conference room at Red Deer’s Baymont Inn and Suites Tuesday for the “State of the Hospital” meeting [WATCH].

The turnout was so large, a second meeting was held right after the first.



Dr. Keith Wolstenholme, Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery at Red Deer Regional Hospital gave a nearly half-hour long speech that ended with a standing ovation from the capacity crowd.

Among his many points, Wolstenholme noted the major inequity in healthcare funding for AHS’ different zones. He told the crowd that in 2014, expansion of Red Deer Regional Hospital was ranked third on the AHS priority list. It remained on the list in 2015, but unranked, before falling off the list altogether last year.

“This is unacceptable.  Nine [of 21 projects] went to Edmonton at an estimated cost of $3.8 billion. Calgary had seven projects worth $815 million, including a $62 million kitchen at Foothills,” he said. “We’ve got $56 million total in the last 12 years. There was not a single project [specifically] for the Central Zone.”

Wolstenholme also questioned the rhetoric from AHS with respect to the need for planning. He displayed no less than 15 planning documents crafted over the last decade for hospital expansion in Red Deer.

“How many hospital beds do we get as a result of 10 years of planning and 15 documents? Zero. How much of an increase in surgical capacity do we get from the Obstetrics ORs that we waited a decade to get? 2.9 per cent,” he said.

As well, Wolstenholme slammed a blog recently posted on the Alberta Health Services website, the message of which he summed up as, “You got a hundred million bucks, you should be happy.”

Wolstenholme claimed AHS has also misled hospital users when it comes to the $40 million parkade at Red Deer Regional, which was completed last year.

“How is that parkade actually paid for? The AHS website proudly says ‘No tax dollars were used for this parkade.’ People who park in there pay for it; people who go to visit, nurses who work all night long,” he said.

Perhaps one of the more shocking, yet not entirely surprising statistics Wolstenholme shared was that on average, Red Deer Regional Hospital operates at 104 per cent capacity.

“How is that possible? We use bathtubs, we use hallways, we care for sick and ill people in those places. We have lack of access to operating rooms, and more than 75 per cent of patients who have seen their surgeons and have been indicated for surgery, have tracked wait times out of window.”

Wolstenholme said the wait time problem is worsening month to month. He noted that last April, the number of surgery patients waiting out of the appropriate time to have their surgery was 58 per cent, and by November, it was 67 per cent. He also mentioned that a typical Saturday or Sunday at a hospital in Calgary and Edmonton includes 10 to 15 functioning operating rooms, while Red Deer is stuck with just one.

“The problem is that there are many aspects of care that we simply can’t deliver, that are the basics of care today,” said Dr. Kym Jim, an Internal Medicine Specialist and Nephrologist in Red Deer.

“If you turn the clock back 20 years, those may have been very high-end type care that could’ve only been delivered in Edmonton or Calgary, but the bottom line is that many aspects of this care can now be delivered in central Alberta. This is where the population is and we simply don’t have those services,” he said.

Jim says it makes no sense to have patients from central Alberta causing overcrowding at hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary when they could receive the care they need closer to home.

As for where the process goes from here, Jim says if you care, you need to let your elected official know.

“We would like a meeting with the Minister of Health. We feel very strongly that while planning needs to proceed, we really need to see a commitment for the development of the Red Deer Regional Hospital,” he said.

“The steps that the public need to take next are really to be engaged on social media, but as well, we’re calling for a public rally on June 3 at a location to be announced. We’re also planning to form a non-profit society called Friends of Central Alberta Regional Hospital that will serve to really push this cause forth in the long term.”

Among the many elected officials in attendance on Tuesday was Red Deer city councillor Ken Johnston, whose wife suffered a heart attack shortly before Christmas.

To many gasps from the crowd, Johnston revealed that she remains in the ICU at Foothills in Calgary and has been there for more than 60 days. Johnston’s impassioned speech was a call for the much desired cardiac catheterization lab. Johnston also cited a report last fall which stated heart attack patients in central Alberta are 60 per cent more likely to die than those in Calgary or Edmonton.

Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman, whose daughter was born at the hospital nearly 30 years ago, was also eager to share his thoughts.

Strankman says doctors can only do so much and AHS is not doing enough. As well, Strankman said despite a difference in party allegiance, he and fellow MLAs are working together civilly on this, noting he has approached the Health Minister directly.

Strankman also agreed with statements made by doctors throughout the evening that this is not an issue bred by the NDP, but rather a systemic one which has festered over the last couple of decades.

“Our primary goal is we want commitment from AHS and from government for nothing short of the complete and total Red Deer Regional Hospital and expansion plan. That means a new tower,” added Dr. Wolstenholme.  “Look at the bottom of this slide [from AHS]. It says ‘Patients and their families are the center of everything we do and every decision we make.’ Does that sound accurate?"

To jeers from the crowd, he responded to his own question: "I don’t think so.”



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