Residents hopeful as budget includes $3M to plan health centre for North Calgary, Airdrie
The provincial budget unveiled Tuesday includes $3 million for the planning of a North Calgary/Airdrie Regional Health Centre, something residents in the community say is much-needed and long overdue.
The funds would be distributed over three years, $1 million for each fiscal year, starting in 2023-24, according to the government's documents.
David Hartwick, advocacy and planning director with the Northern Hills Community Association, which represents five communities in north-central Calgary, says he has advocated for a new health centre in the area for more than two decades. And it can't come fast enough, he adds.
"I've long felt there's a lack of political will here," he said in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.
"We can't wait. The area is growing too much.… It's frustrating that we're battling for everything."
He says many residents in the northern part of Calgary typically make their way to the Airdrie Community Health Centre for urgent health-care services. For some, it's closer than health-care facilities within the city.
The Airdrie facility also serves many members of smaller, surrounding communities. In response to growing demand, the Airdrie Community Health Centre started offering 24/7 urgent care in 2017.
But Ryan Thompson with the Airdrie Health Foundation, which is a charitable foundation that raises funds for the centre, says the facility is still bursting at the seams.
"To see there's money to talk about a regional health centre … on one hand, I guess, is positive, but on the other hand, it's really saying, 'OK, nothing concrete is going to happen [yet],'" he said.
"At the foundation, we believe a bigger facility is urgently required."
In a statement, Scott Johnston, press secretary for the minister of health, said the funds will go toward planning for a new, standalone facility.
"This important planning work will articulate the project scope, project cost and other associated impacts," he said.
Johnston added the budget includes $18 million over three years to plan multiple health capital projects across the province. Those projects will then be eligible for further funding considerations in future budgets.
Record-high health spending is included in the 2023-24 budget, including goals to increase staffing levels with Alberta Health Services, get new ambulances on the road and reduce patient wait times.
Hartwick says he's optimistic something will be done for residents in north Calgary and Airdrie, but he's been disappointed before.
In a 2005 Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation document that listed tentative projects, a North Calgary Diagnostic and Treatment Centre is mentioned. But it never came to fruition.
"We have tried every angle to try and get something built up here so that the residents have something better than nothing. And it's always failed."
LISTEN | David Hartwick explains what a new health-care facility could mean for Calgary and Airdrie:
Dr. Fozia Alvi, a family doctor in Airdrie, says with a nationwide shortage of family doctors, and long wait times typical in the city for urgent-care services, some desperate patients are winding up in her clinic.
"For example, one patient, he was a walk-in. His family doctor left and he did not have a [general practitioner]. So he came to my office and, luckily, we saw him that day. So he was having acute coronary syndrome. So we sent him to the emergency department, and he had heart surgery done the same day," she said.
"He said that there was a nine-hour wait time in urgent care, and 'there's no way I'm going to go there.' How many patients are like that?"
On top of urgent care options, the city also has a lack of laboratory services, diagnostic equipment and obstetrics and delivery services, Thompson said.
He noted the Airdrie Health Foundation is helping to fill some of the gaps.
Through fundraising, they recently purchased an ultrasound machine, a crash cart and a glidescope (used for airway visualization) for the health centre, he said.
"A lot of the equipment that actually goes into the hospitals comes from foundations and donors and people that are just being really generous," said Thompson.
"It would be nice to just point at the government and say, 'This needs to get built now.' We continue to say, 'Hey, we really think a larger hospital-type facility needs to be built in Airdrie as soon as possible."
Airdrie Mayor Peter Brown said health-care providers within the community need to be part of the discussion moving forward.
"We have a lot of community health professionals that know what Airdrie needs, and they really need to be at the forefront of that discussion," he said in an interview on The Homestretch.
With the city doubling in size since 2010, Brown said it needs more infrastructure to support a growing population.
"Again, the regional draw is very important because other communities surrounding us have grown as well," he said.
"The real key message is we have a significant infrastructure deficit, and we need the help of the province."
Finance Minister Travis Toews will be in Airdrie on Friday to address the local business community. Brown said he hopes to hear more about some of the government's promises during the visit.
"Hopefully, we'll get a lot of answers and some clarity around some of the funding that's being offered in this budget."