The Opposition NDP's health critic said Monday he was calling for answers from the provincial government on a "deepening crisis" after a number of patients were diverted from the Red Deer Regional Hospital to other facilities in recent days.
"Patients who were expecting necessary surgeries were told they would be taking the highway to a different community," said David Shepherd during a media availability held outside the facility.
"Not only does this create anxiety and uncertainty, we never should have found ourselves here in this situation."
In a statement issued on Friday, a spokesperson with Alberta Health Services said that depending on their condition, patients would be diverted to other surgical sites in the Central Zone, including Camrose, Rocky Mountain House and Drumheller, or to facilities in Calgary and Edmonton.
"We acknowledge that this will cause some stress and anxiety to some of our surgical patients; however, we have exhausted all efforts to avoid this temporary diversion," reads the statement.
"This diversion is specific to the general surgery program only at this time. Procedures seen by the program can include conditions like appendicitis, bowel resections, laparotomies and gallbladder removals."
The spokesperson said the diversion measures were due to several factors, including a shortage of clinical assistants in the general surgery program. They added that the situation would be evaluated regularly as recruitment efforts continued, adding it would be lifted as soon as possible.
The hospital serves close to half a million people in central Alberta. Regularly operating above capacity, it has been plagued by bed shortages and backlogs for years, and regularly operates above capacity.
Those trouble have become more acute amid the COVID-19 pandemic, heightened by increased demand and staffing shortages.
Speaking during Question Period on Monday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said there was "no doubt" that many Alberta hospitals are under stress.
"[Both] as a legacy of the last COVID wave, but also we have had some increased pressure on the hospitals," he said. "That is particularly the case in central Alberta, where there's been a disproportionate number of new cases and hospitalizations in that region."
In February, the Alberta government promised to spend $1.8 billion to expand the hospital, with $193 million being invested over the next three years as part of Budget 2022.
Shepherd said he had heard from municipal leaders and hospital employees that they wanted to see specific plans tied to the funding.
"I think it's perfectly reasonable that people want to hold the government to account, that they want to see specific plans and timelines for the work that this government is promising to do," Shepherd said.
"Because as we can see, with the continuing crisis here, this is not something that we can afford to stall on any longer. This work needs to get underway."
At the time of the announcement of the expansion, Health Minister Jason Copping said the funding would add 200 beds, bringing the total from 370 to 570.
He said it would also add three more operating rooms, for a total of 14, as well as a long-awaited cardiac catheterization lab.