BY MARK WEBER
The Red Deer Regional Hospital has been massively short-changed over the years funding-wise from the province in terms of being able to keep up with local population growth and service demand, officials say.The
A State of the Hospital Address was held Tuesday at the Baymont Inn & Suites and Conference Centre (formerly the Red Deer Lodge) where several local physicians spoke out about the crisis to a packed house with standing room only.
The meeting was hosted by Diagnosis Critical – Your Central Alberta Regional Hospital.
Organizers said the lack of health care infrastructure spending that Central Alberta has received over the past many years has led to extremely serious consequences for health care in Central Alberta.
The session opened with City Councillor Ken Johnston sharing his story about a medical crisis within his own family.
“Ours is a cardiac story,” he said, adding that his wife Isabelle suffered a major heart attack last November.
The month prior, he had noted in a report that Central Albertans were 60% more likely to die from heart attacks then patients in Calgary or Edmonton due to the lack of a cardiac catheter lab and other cardiac supports.
“It struck me that morning with a staggering force,” he recalled of hearing that information. “I actually asked myself if I was reading that correctly.
“Because there was no cardiac catheter therapy in Red Deer, she had to be flown by STARS to the Foothills (in Calgary),” he said. “She was in critical condition, she was on life support and was given a 50-50 chance of survival.”
With cardiac treatment of course, time is of the essence, he added. “Time is measured in minutes or hours, and to add time while transporting, to add time without a full cardiac team and to add time into the equation further damages the heart and further elevates the risk of not surviving – simple as that,” he said.
“The fear and anxiety with which these doctors wrote that day in their report in October came upon us as we watched the helicopter take Isabelle away,” he said, adding he couldn’t help but wonder if she was going to be one of the 60% that was not going to make it.
His wife stayed in Calgary for two weeks, and then returned to the Red Deer Hospital where she stayed in intensive care for 65 more days, he said, “Today, her health is fragile. And she remains hospitalized. But we are hopeful she will return home soon.”
He said it was also difficult watching the faces and seeing the emotions of doctors telling families going through the same circumstances that there was nothing more that could be done here in Red Deer. “We have to move your son, your brother, your uncle, your dad, your mother.
“I want to thank this dedicated group for their commitment to us – our families and communities – in what clearly is a treatment crisis in Central Alberta,” he said. “Ponder this – if 60 per cent of Central Albertans were more likely to die than residents of Calgary or Edmonton, because of safe roads or bridges or transit, would we not fix the problem immediately? Of course we would! What makes this issue any different? There is no difference, my friends.
“They are asking that equitable and life-saving treatment be restored to our hospital,” he said. “Why are we not equipping our medical professionals with the best life-saving tools they could have for us? Why? Ask yourself that.”
This kind of limited care in cardiac services is just one way that the Red Deer Hospital has fallen so far behind over the years, physicians noted during the course of the meeting.
The hospital is badly in need of an increase in capacity overall.
On the group’s facebook page, it notes that the, “Red Deer Regional Hospital is consistently amongst the top five busiest hospitals in Alberta and serves 450,000 to 500,000 Central Albertans as the only referral centre in our zone.
“Surgeries are routinely cancelled because there are no available beds to look after patients post-operatively.”
Officials with the organization also point to a document (the 2016 Multi-Year Facility Infrastructure Capital Submission) they say is at the crux of the matter and shows how Central Alberta is being overlooked in terms of health care infrastructure development.
“Central Alberta and the Red Deer Regional Hospital lack the infrastructure to deal with the volume of work in the area,” said Dr. Kym Jim. “This leads to longer wait times and travel to Edmonton and Calgary to receive care,” he said. “Central Alberta and the Red Deer hospital lack the programs to deal with an array of medical illnesses that could be dealt with locally if proper funding were allocated to Central Alberta,” he said, adding that all of this was anticipated years back.
“Years ago, when there was something called the David Thompson Health Region that represented Central Alberta, there was a regional master plan and the Red Deer Regional Hospital Master Plan that was created,” he explained, adding this was back in 2007-08.
Countless hours went into this report, he said, and it called for service development in the hospital to deliver more advanced services and keep pace with expected population growth.
The plan was shelved with the amalgamation of the health regions in 2008, he said.
“Many years were lost. Unfortunately during this time for Central Alberta, plans were sped ahead in Edmonton and Calgary,” he said.
Then, in 2014, the Red Deer Regional Master Plan was created. Once again, this was after extensive consultation.
At that time, the hospital was third on the list for sites needing major infrastructure improvement in Alberta.
In 2015, there was the ‘Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre Service & Program Expansion Needs Assessment’.
“This showed that we were 96 beds short in the hospital, 18 beds short in the ER, three operating rooms short and multiple programs were missing,” he said.
Last year, the 2016 Multi-Year Facility Infrastructure Capital Submission was released and Red Deer Regional Hospital was no longer on the list, said Jim, adding that several projects were set in Calgary and Edmonton and other places.
“Red Deer Regional Hospital has had various site plans over 10 years,” he said. Planned projects, based on the catchment population that the hospital serves, are way below what has been allocated to the major cities per person as well.
“Central Albertans are not getting the care that they have earned, and the care close to home they have earned,” he said, adding that plenty of tax dollars from locals are really going to Edmonton and Calgary health care systems in the bigger picture.
Another issue connected to capacity is that half of the patients in the hospital are from surrounding areas around Red Deer, so it’s all the more challenging to keep up with the demand for services.
Dr. John Colebrook, an emergency physician in Red Deer, noted that emergency department overcrowding is really the same as hospital overcrowding.
“Hospital overcrowding is the result of not enough resources to meet the needs of community and patient population,” he said. “We don’t have enough long-term care beds, alternate level of care beds, acute care beds – and everything just backs up,” he said.
“This is such a large deficiency that there is no way that local initiatives – such as streamlining the discharge process – will really have a significant impact on overcrowding,” he said. “It is incredibly crippling to patient flow in the ED when we do not have access to our beds for new patients. This impacts patient care.” The needs assessment done earlier had shown the ED was already 18 beds short, he said. The longer the wait in general, the higher the risk of getting sicker and passing away as well.
As to the cardiac catheterization, Colebrook shared his experience of working in a hospital in St. John, New Brunswick in the early 2000s where it was available. It can take hours to arrange to send a heart attack victim to another city.
Colebrook said someone diagnosed with a heart attack was admitted for treatment. From the time that patient entered the ED, it took 12 minutes to get him on the table in the catheter lab. That was 14 years ago, he said. “Compare that to the four hours patients in Red Deer can expect.
“It’s time for us to recieve the same investment as the other urban centres.”
For more information, find them on facebook at ‘Diagnosis Critical – Your Central Alberta Regional Hospital’.