It’s important to give credit where credit is due. The NDP government’s October 27th budget contained in it plenty of bad news: record spending, record debt and higher taxes. Despite the bad economic and fiscal news, it does contain in it some good news that shouldn’t be ignored.
During the spring provincial election, I committed to you that I would champion local health and seniors care infrastructure as our most important local issues in Strathmore-Brooks. This includes a badly needed upgrade to the busy Strathmore Hospital’s emergency room, support efforts to raise money to build a dialysis centre in Brooks, and push for the approval of the Bassano Project.
One day after the budget was tabled, the government announced that the Bassano project would be approved. This is very good news for the people of Strathmore-Brooks.
The Bassano Project is a plan led by the Newell Foundation intended to integrate independent living, supportive living, long-term care, primary care and acute care.
It is a non-profit arrangement that required two things from the Alberta government: 1) Approval of the Affordable Supportive Living Initiative (ASLI) grant, and 2) Go-ahead from the province that the Bassano Project can be seamlessly integrated with the Bassano Health Centre.
As of now, the ASLI grant has been approved. This has long been promised by the government, and thankfully followed through on.
The only major obstacle that remains for the project to go forward is approval from the province for integration with the Bassano Health Centre.
In the Legislature on November 28th, I thanked the Minister of Health for approving the ASLI grant, and pressed her to give the go-ahead for the integration of the health centre with the Bassano Project. Unfortunately, politics can get in the way of even a relatively non-political issue, and we didn’t get much in the way of an answer from the minister.
This is not to say that the government will not approve the integration (I expect that it will in the end), but this is something that we will need to continue pressing on for the time being.
Concurrently, the Brooks and District Health Foundation (BDHF) is working hard to raise money to build a much needed dialysis centre in Brooks.
Right now, patients requiring dialysis treatment in the Brooks region have to travel all the way to Medicine Hat. For many patients, that can mean three trips or more to Medicine Hat in a week. Needless to say, this is extremely disruptive for anyone trying to live a normal life.
Brooks has now grown to the point where it has the population (and unfortunately the patients) necessary to warrant its own treatment centre; but rather than rely solely on the government, the BDHF have taken the lead themselves. They estimate that the project will cost $3.5 million; $3 million for infrastructure and $500,000 for equipment. The BDHF have set as their target to raise $1.5 million (43%) towards the project.
In September, the BHDF raised roughly $50,000 at their sold out Fashion Frenzy Gala. Hundreds of people from Brooks and the surrounding area came out to support this community initiative.
To date, the BHDF has raised $125,000. We have a long way to go yet, but we will meet that $1.5 million goal. I will continue to push the Government of Alberta to meet its funding requirement for this project.
I also had the opportunity to visit most of the seniors care facilities in both Strathmore and Brooks recently. I spoke to the staff, patients and their families. The reviews have been mixed, with some patients quite happy with the care they are receiving, and others not. Some of the concerns that I heard repeatedly from patients and residents, I discussed directly with staff and management.
I will continue to meet regularly with our seniors in care, listen to their concerns, and advocate on their behalf.
Strathmore’s overcrowded emergency room – one of the busiest in rural Alberta – also continues to be a priority for me. Thus far, we have received no commitment to expanding the emergency room, despite the government pledging $4.5 billion for the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, which would make it the single most expensive hospital in the world. It is a disturbing trend in the new government towards centralization in AHS, and away from local healthcare delivery and decision-making.
In this budget, let’s give credit where credit is due; but let’s also hold the government to account where it falls short.