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    Categories: Local News

Province tackles health infrastructure deficit

It wasn’t a sexy announcement, but the increased funding to health-facility renewal and maintenance projects last Friday was well-received by Alberta Health Services staff and local facility operators.

Ministers Sarah Hoffman and Brian Mason announced last week the government would commit more funding to repairing and upgrading the province’s health facilities over the next five years.

“This is a good news story for sure,” said Dean Olmstead, senior director of capital management for the Edmonton Zone. “In this environment we weren’t quite sure what to expect. In the middle of it, to be able to maintain this funding on infrastructure is very good for us, and for Albertans to know that their hospitals are looked after into the future.”

The 2016 capital plan includes $759.5 million – an increase of about $107 million, or roughly 16 per cent, over last year’s capital plan.

With AHS playing catch up for years due to budget cuts, the increase in funding will help the region, and the province as a whole, tackle the health infrastructure deficit by completing more projects each year.

“Our hospitals are safe, but there is a long-deferred maintenance – maintenance of infrastructure that we would have liked to have done by now, but we’ve had to postpone for lack of funding, so we keep it going through good maintenance and repair from our front line staff.”

The St. Albert Public Health Centre roof for example was installed in 1976. While not an uncommon practice to stretch the life expectancy of certain infrastructure through repairs (in the case of the roof, from 20 years to 40), “you can’t keep doing that forever,” said Olmstead. “At some point you have to replace it.”

The current 2016-17 fiscal year will direct $131 million towards more than 520 projects across the province, including several at local St. Albert facilities.

Over the next two years over $4 million will be invested at the Sturgeon Community Hospital for projects like upgrades to elevators, fire suppression systems, HVAC system upgrades, chiller replacement, and laboratory accreditation renovations.

The St. Albert Public Health Centre will receive approximately $300,000 to complete a chiller replacement and replace the deteriorating roof, while the Youville Auxiliary Hospital will see over $600,000 for elevator retrofits, joint sealer and window and door frame replacement.

“The buildings are used, there are so many people coming in and out of them – it’s really important that you maintain the buildings as time goes by,” said Cecilia Marion, senior director of the Youville, pointing out that the main building was built in 1963. “It’s wonderful that we have funding so we can start to chip away at some of those maintenance things and keep our facilities safe for our residents.”

Funding will increase over each of the next four years with $143.5 million allocated in 2017-18, $146 million in 2018-19, $154 million in 2019-20 and $185 million for 2020-21.

Last year, AHS spent $87 million on 458 health-facility maintenance and renewal projects.

Michelle Ferguson: