POLITICS

Alberta Health Services making marginal improvements, more needs to be done

05/03/2012 08:24 EDT | Updated 07/03/2012 05:12 EDT
MEDICINE HAT, Alta. - The Alberta government says it is making marginal improvements in delivering some key health services, but critics say it isn't enough.

In a quarterly performance report released Thursday, Alberta Health Services says access to cataract surgeries and radiation therapy has improved.

Emergency department wait times were also down.

The government agency says as of Dec. 31, 81 per cent of patients in emergency rooms were being discharged within four hours — the target is 84 per cent.

But only 56 per cent of emergency patients were being admitted to a hospital bed within eight hours, again a slight improvement, but off the target of 65 per cent.

Catherine Roozen, CEO of Alberta Health Services, acknowledged more needs to be done.

"Alberta Health Services remains focused on our core strategic goals of increasing access, reducing wait times, expanding continuing care options and helping people achieve and maintain health," she said.

Alberta Health Services says it did meet its target to open 1,000 continuing-care beds by the end of March.

The agency is running a modest surplus on a budget of almost $12 billion.

Roozen cautions the final surplus number at the end of the fiscal year will be lower than expected due to the hiring of more staff and the need to cover union collective agreement settlements.

The Opposition Wildrose party was critical of the government's performance, noting that 1,500 seniors are still on waiting lists for long-term care beds.

Wildrose seniors critic Kerry Towle noted that there are 489 seniors in hospital acute care beds waiting to transfer to a long-term facility. She called on the Progressive Conservatives to spend more money to fix the problem.

"The proper investment needs to be made into long-term care so our seniors are not asked to continue to wait in expensive and uncomfortable hospitals rooms without getting the treatment they need," she said.

Wildrose health critic Heather Forsyth said progress on hip and knee replacement surgeries remains stagnant. She also accused the government of holding back the release of the quarterly update until after the most provincial election.

Alberta Health Services also announced $3 million in new spending Thursday to almost double the number of home care staff in the Medicine Hat area and expand service hours.

Currently, 65 staff look after about 2,000 residents needing home care. The province is now looking to hire another 60 health providers.

Vanessa Maclean, AHS south zone medical director, says more than 4,400 new clients have been added across the province this year alone. She also says the south zone has the highest rate of retirees in Alberta.

“Approximately 15 per cent of the population in Medicine Hat are over the age of 65, which is higher than the provincial average of 10 per cent. We are working to expand continued care options by shifting toward community and home-based care... adding 5,000 continuing care beds by 2015.”

(The Canadian Press, Medicine Hat News)

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