MOVING FORWARD - A planning meeting for the Society for Fair and Transparent Health Funding to Central Alberta was held March 6th at the Baymont Inn & Suites. Mark Weber/Red Deer Express

Initial meeting held for society focused on better medical services for Central Alberta

Society for Fair and Transparent Health Funding to Central Alberta looking for support

A planning meeting for the newly-formed Society for Fair and Transparent Health Funding to Central Alberta was held Tuesday evening in Red Deer.

The packed event, held at the Baymont Inn and Suites, was hosted by several doctors behind the formation of the Society, which has emerged out of a groundswell of support for bolstered medical services in Red Deer.

“All of our advocacy and rally efforts over the last year have now come to this point where we are officially a not-for-profit Society,” said Dr. Keith Wolstenholme, adding that the meeting’s purpose was to attract people with various skill sets to the cause as well.

“People have shown incredible support and interest. Obviously, people care about their health,” he said. “They’ve realized, partly through our efforts, that they really have been underfunded in Central Alberta. They see the vast disparity in healthcare infrastructure investment dollars that have been distributed here versus really everywhere else in the province,” he said.

“When Albertans see something that is unfair, they respond – especially when they see it affects their own healthcare and the healthcare of their loved ones,” he said. He noted that doctors with the Society have heard from other physicians across the country, and as far as he knows, this is the first time an initiative of this type has been launched in Canada, “Where physicians have been the backbone to advocate for infrastructure investment dollars.

“As far as we know, this is the first non-profit society where the goal has been to increase healthcare infrastructure dollars in their own community.”

Wolstenholme said local tax money for healthcare infrastructure is being funneled largely to the bigger centres of Edmonton and Calgary.

The Society was ultimately also created after a major expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital was dropped from the provincial priority list in late 2016 with little explanation from either Alberta Health Services or the Province, according to a release.

From there, the first rally to bolster awareness was held last February, attracting hundreds.

A second rally was held in September and organizers say more will happen – including perhaps one to the provincial legislature in the coming months.

“We’ve tried various tactics – we’ve spoken directly with members of the government, we’ve spoken directly with senior members of Alberta Health Services. We are hoping that this will be a successful push to get us really what we need in the Central Zone, which is Red Deer Regional Hospital redevelopment and expansion. Nothing short of that is fair. Nothing short of that is really the proper thing to do.”

As to the packed meeting Tuesday, he said it shows how much people care about the issue, “How invested they are, and how they feel it’s unfair how they’ve been treated in the Central Zone so far.”

With the next provincial budget just around the corner, stakeholders are waiting with a sense of tempered optimism.

Earlier this year, the Urgent Priority List was released from Alberta Health Services and again, there were no projects in the Central Zone and specifically, nothing announced for Red Deer Regional Hospital redevelopment and expansion.

Dr. Paul Hardy said it’s vital that members of the community join in and support the Society.

“The Society was created to put government and Alberta Health on notice that we are not going to be a flash in the pan – we aren’t going to do this for a couple of months and then quit,” he said, adding that a past needs assessment study showed the hospital is 96 beds short. “We are now doing a needs assessment refresh; the doctors are all working very hard, along with other health care workers and administrators with Alberta Health Services on this refresh, which is likely going to come out in about May of this year,” said Hardy.

The Society also grew out of Diagnosis Critical – Your Central Alberta Regional Hospital, which has been pointing out that Red Deer is in dire need of capital spending to expand the Red Deer Regional Hospital in order to provide care to the over 400,000 people who live in Central Alberta.

Other founding members of the Society include Dr. Kym Jim, Dr. Alan Poole and Dr. Cinzia Gaudelli.

Another issue is that the City’s hospital doesn’t have a cardiac catheter lab and other cardiac supports, meaning that Central Albertans were ultimately 60 per cent more likely to die from heart attacks than patients in Calgary or Edmonton.

For more, find ‘Diagnosis Critical. Your Central Alberta Regional Hospital’ on facebook.

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