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Province invests in operating rooms to increase surgeries

Last Updated Mar 4, 2020 at 4:56 pm MST

(CREDIT: iStock Photo)

EDMONTON (660 NEWS) — The Kenney government is pushing forward with a goal to increase surgeries and cut down on wait times in Alberta, by investing in operation room upgrades around the province.

The commitment of $100 million will be spent on surgical infrastructure and equipment, including upgrading 12 operating rooms at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre.

During a press conference in Edmonton, Premier Jason Kenney said this will create a quick impact.

“That means that tens of thousands of Albertans facing serious medical problems will get surgery when they need it,” he said, adding this investment alone will help add over 17,000 surgeries this year.

“And by 2023, we expect that annual number to grow to 30,000 more surgeries performed annually. That means over the next four years we hope to see about 80,000 additional surgeries performed.”

This investment also redirects care, by keeping important and high risk surgeries in major hospitals — such as in Calgary and Edmonton — while moving low-risk operations to smaller centres.

For Calgarians, this will mean some surgeries will be handled in private facilities, Canmore, or High River while the major surgeries stay at hospitals like Foothills.

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This boost fits with the UCP’s wider $500 million plan to drive down wait times, using savings found in the recent Alberta Health Services review.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the commitment also increases care levels in rural Alberta, while operating rooms in Grande Prairie, Red Deer, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat will be receiving upgrades or expansions as well.

Shandro acknowledged that many operating rooms are actually underutilized right now, but this investment is still needed.

“We know that we need to make this investment in our public operating rooms to be able to make sure that there’s the capacity there for us to meet those needs.”

It will also require more staff to handle the increased amount of surgeries, and plans are in place to handle that — including methods to bring in temporary staff as Shandro mentioned during question period in the Legislature earlier in the week.

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“Part of the Alberta Surgical Initiative is actually a workforce plan that talks about the specifics in terms of the numbers of people that we’re going to need to deploy and hire,” said Alberta Health Services President and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu. “We actually use a locum program that we partner with Alberta Medical Association, and physicians can actually work as locums to be in certain settings for certain periods.”

Shandro and Kenney also faced questions around changes to physician compensation and the recent 2020 provincial budget, with both saying many of the rising concerns coming from some doctors are due to “misunderstandings”, particularly around adjustments to complex modifiers which determine how much a doctor is paid for lengthy visits with patients.

“We are going to ensure that we are continuing to pay our physicians in this province so that they are among the highest paid in this country,” said Shandro.

“There are no health care cuts,” added Kenney. “The health care budget that was tabled in the Legislature last week and will be voted on, that’s real money — this is not make believe, it’s not spin — these are real hard dollars being authorized by the Legislature and actually sees a moderate increase in the health care budget.”