The delays to renovations of the Airdrie Community Health Centre have sparked criticism from an Alberta advocacy group. 

Friends of Medicare, a non-profit, non-partisan coalition which advocates universal public healthcare released a statement on Tuesday. According to Chris Gallaway, Executive Director of the group, the lack of transparency surrounding the new health proposal is worrying.

"It doesn't ring very accountable to us [and] it seems a bit sketchy; behind the scenes [and] behind closed doors," he said. 

Gallaway said that it wasn't until the group started receiving calls after DiscoverAirdrie's initial article, from Airdrie residents and those that work at the community health centre, that they were made aware of the delays.

"People reached out saying [they] don't know what's going on. That doesn't create a good culture for folks. If they're [the government] considering a private partner for this facility, there should be a public process for how we get there."

Initially, Michelle Bates, Executive Director of the Airdrie Health Foundation had written that the foundation was notified in January of the delay and the foundation was told that the new proposal would be a privately delivered, publically funded model. Gallaway said this kind of model does not foresee extra out-of-pocket fees that Albertans would pay but, in his view, it is privatization nonetheless.

"We think it's privatization and it's a bad use of public health care dollars because we're paying for profits for those corporations with money that should be going to care."

Gallaway added that the previous service agreement with DynaLIFE and Alberta Precision Laboratories is an example of something that is privately delivered, though publically funded.

"There's many issues with how they're doing private delivery and that's why we're very concerned about this proposal, because we don't know what it is. We don't know what they're talking about."

Although Airdrie physician, Dr. Julian Kyne who is involved in the project proposal said that the proposal may be more cost-effective than renovations to the current urgent care centre, Gallaway said he is skeptical that a brand-new facility could be built within the same time allotted for the renovations of the pre-existing centre.

"We know construction takes time. It takes time to draw plans to do construction. It always takes longer than predicted when building these facilities," Gallaway said. "It's unclear to us what they're looking at [and] why can't they proceed with the proposed renovation and expansion and look at other options."

Gallaway also questioned the costs associated with the new proposal.

"Who is the public paying for? A space that a private operator is going to benefit from? Are we subsidizing the for-profit healthcare companies? That's why we have so many questions about this and we think the transparency piece is a big problem. We don't know if it's a good deal financially; we don't know if it's a similar cost or a similar facility and what's already been proposed and approved because they haven't told us."

In a previous interview with Dr. Kyne, he said though he could not give an exact figure on the price tag for the new health proposal, he added that it would be comparable to $8.4 million, the same dollar amount previously allocated to the renovations. He was also asked why the new health proposal couldn't proceed in tandem with renovations to Airdrie's Urgent Care.

Dr. Kyne said that there were several concerns regarding the cost-effectiveness of the renovations themselves which begged the question if there was a better path forward. 

"[It's] often much more challenging construction to accomplish, because you're going to be constructing while people are trying to continue on working and you're retrofitting into a space that is quite old, to begin with; and was never designed as an urgent care from the outset."

While no concrete dates were given, Dr. Kyne said that the timeline for the new project proposal could be comparable to renovations being completed at the urgent care centre, which was slated to be finished by the end of 2024.

Last week, an official for Alberta Health reiterated that renovations to the Airdrie Urgent Care Centre are on hold to, 'ensure Albertans receive value for money spent.'

"Once the proposal by One Health is better defined and more information is received, the Alberta government will be able to determine if the project should move forward as planned or if changes to its scope and funding are recommended or required."

According to the province, the previously allocated funds for the renovation project are being held within the Capital Maintenance and Renewal program.

"The provision of health services in Airdrie is a priority and Alberta’s government will ensure that any health project in the community provides high-quality care," Alberta Health stated.

City of Airdrie statistics show that Airdrie's Urgent Care Centre sees upwards of 46,000 patients per year, reporting an average of 139 patients per day.

In 2017, the operating hours were expanded to offer services at the centre 24 hours a day, seven days a week in April 2017.

“The residents of Airdrie care deeply about their public health care. For years, they lobbied hard to expand to 24-hour care at the Airdrie Urgent Care Centre. Since then, they’ve pushed to get the needed expansion approved and moving forward,” Gallaway added. “Now the project is on pause and they’re being told to wait while the government explores private partners, rather than focus on delivering the public health care residents need. It’s unacceptable.”

Alberta Health has not indicated a timeline for when the project proposal review will be finished or when and if renovations to Airdrie's community health centre will resume. 

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