In early 2024, residents of Airdrie will be invited to have their say on what they want the future of healthcare to look like in their community.

Alberta Health Services has announced that they are looking to 'refresh' the Calgary Zone Healthcare plan, to, 'help shape the high-level strategic vision and direction for AHS’ Calgary Zone for the next five to 10 years.'

"The Calgary Zone Healthcare Plan will be the road map for decision-making and prioritization to provide quality, accessible and sustainable health services. The development of this plan will require a zone-wide approach, reaching into the communities served by the zone to understand their unique perspectives and priorities," AHS stated on its website.

As part of that refresh, residents from across different municipalities are being asked to participate in a series of different types of engagement, including a series of in-person town halls. While the Rocky View and Mountain View Counties Community Engagement is slated for Friday, November 17, Airdrie Mayor Peter Brown confirmed that in January, Airdrie residents will also have the same opportunity. 

The community engagement session will take place on Thursday, January 11, 2024, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., though a location has yet to be announced. Participants will be asked to register for the session.

These community engagement sessions are part of a larger phased approach. While the first phase, Population Health Needs Assessment is already underway, the second phase of the initiative which will take place in the Spring and Summer of 2024. It is meant to develop a healthcare plan. Once that plan is complete a draft Calgary Zone Healthcare Plan will be developed and submitted for approval and implementation in late 2024.

Residents are also encouraged to take part in a short survey online. The results of a quick poll indicate that nearly 60 per cent of residents across different municipalities view access to service as one of the most important issues.

While the engagement sessions in the new year will be an opportunity for residents to voice their concerns, Mayor Brown underlined that advocacy for better healthcare on the part of the city has not paused and will continue. Mayor Brown said that earlier this week he met with Health Minister Adriana LaGrange.

"In particular, on healthcare, it's been a challenge the last number of years, but I believe that AHS finally recognizes this as a place to invest," he said. "They're working with us on an opportunity that hopefully will come to fruition with local doctors."

When asked what advocacy looks like, especially since healthcare is a provincial jurisdiction, Mayor Brown said that it entails meetings, letter writing, and constant communication with provincial counterparts, including MLA Peter Guthrie and MLA Angela Pitt.

"Most importantly, it's getting up here [to Edmonton] and getting in front of the minister and getting in front of the government. My goal is to make sure that when they're discussing the allocation of funds - the 2024 budget allocation, Airdrie is in there; whether it's education, health care, or transportation. We're making some inroads, but it never comes as quickly as you'd like."

With Airdrie being one of the fastest-growing municipalities in the province, Mayor Brown was asked if he is worried that provincial support, whether in terms of budget line items or otherwise may come too late, with Airdrie's population fast out-pacing the city's infrastructure and amenities. However, the Mayor said that he believes Airdrie's growing population is a benefit to the advocacy work.

"Airdrie is number one across the spectrum in this province and probably across the country. They're recognizing we need help with sewer lines, water lines, infrastructure, and transportation networks. And healthcare is the number one topic with our residents. I think our growth will expedite the support we're going to get."

Mayor Brown also confirmed that tentatively members of AHS EMS will be before the City Council in November to discuss the issue of ambulance response times.

"What we're hoping for is improved response times, a better working environment for their paramedics and their crews. From what I understand from the Health Minister [is that] the numbers have gotten better," he said. "We're hoping that the number of ambulances that are diverted out of Airdrie has shrunk because that continues to happen. Those are probably the key objectives."

Earlier this year, Airdrie's City Council vowed to hold Alberta Health Services to account when it comes to the data that is presented to city officials on ambulance response times. Mayor Brown echoed the sentiment, adding that Premier Smith had also promised that data provided to the council would be more holistic.

"I don't know if we're there yet, but that's the hope," Mayor Brown said.

In Airdrie's 2023 citizen satisfaction survey, one of the key reasons that residents highlighted as a decrease in quality of life in the city was the lack of a hospital; 19 per cent of respondents cited this as a reason for a decrease in the quality of life in Airdrie.

The survey also listed healthcare as one of the top priorities that residents wanted the city council to engage in. 

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