Thursday, April 9, 2009

Alberta Tories delay major health projects

This is from the Calgary Herald.

Given the need for economic stimulus and the slowdown in Alberta it would seem that many of the major projects could have gone ahead even though this would increase the deficit. The present low price of oil is unlikely to persist. Even now the price has improved considerably from the bottoms it hit earlier. However, as the Liberal critic indicates it may be difficult to determine if money is being well spent in some areas. Cost over-runs have been a problem. The new super board will ensure that there will not be much local input into decision making.

Tories delay major health projects - including Calgary clinic

By Michelle Lang, Calgary HeraldApril 8, 2009

Alberta's colossal $13-billion health budget provides a modest increase in program spending this year, but postpones several big-ticket construction projects that critics maintain are needed to bolster a stressed medical system.
Alberta Health's capital plan, contained in Tuesday's provincial budget, contained no new projects and delayed eight planned initiatives, including several new nursing homes, a north Calgary diagnostic clinic and Edmonton hospital upgrades.
While total health spending -- including capital grants and day-to-day expenses -- will remain at about $12.9 billion this year, the operating budget will grow 4.6 per cent over last year.
The budget for the new provincial superboard, which manages the province's medical system, will increase to $7.7 billion from $7.16 billion last year.
Medical groups, however, worry it won't be enough to fix delays in Calgary emergency rooms, where wait times have been growing in recent months.
"It's not a large increase, so we are going to be faced in health care with some difficult decisions," said Dr. Linda Slocombe, president of the Calgary and Area Physicians' Association.
The superboard said it will review the budget before providing comment, although a statement from the organization noted health-care spending increased by an average of 10 per cent annually during the past five years.This year's budget gives Alberta Health Services about a seven per cent increase.
"Today's announcement underscores the fact that we can't afford to pretend it's going to be business as usual,"said Stephen Duckett, chief executive of the superboard, which was facing an operating and capital deficit of about $1.3 billion for the last fiscal year. "We have a responsibility to manage within our resources."
Tuesday's budget boosts funding for cancer therapy drugs by 20 per cent, while providing $41 million for the government's new continuing care strategy, including more home care money.
"We have a budget that takes care of those who are our high-est priority,"said Health Minister Ron Liepert.
But the capital plan for health defers a variety of projects around the province, from the Barrhead health centre to long-term care facilities in Didsbury, Lacombe and Fort McMurray.
The plan indicates Calgary's $1.4-billion south hospital is on track, but a new diagnostic and treatment centre for the city is being deferred.
Three projects in Edmonton, including a pediatric emergency room expansion project, are also being postponed.
Liepert said the deferrals and reviews are necessary to align facilities with his health reforms and because of construction cost overruns.
But groups like Friends of Medicare said the projects could have provided much-needed economic stimulus.
"Now is the time to build those facilities," said Dave Eggen, executive director of the lobby group.
Opposition parties complained the budget provided little clarity on the super-board's complex finances.
Budget documents said Alberta Health Services has about$1.5 billion that it has not yet spent on capital projects. The superboard has previously suggested it's facing a capital deficit.
"Are we getting value for our spending?" asked Dr. David Swann, the Alberta Liberal Leader. "We've never had the books opened to us."
Alberta Health Services' audited financial statements are expected to be made public in June.
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

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