CALGARY – Good news from Alberta’s Budget 2015: A Calgary cancer centre will be funded over the next five years.
Bad news: It will have to compete for limited dollars with two Edmonton facilities in dire need of repair, the Royal Alexandra and Misericordia hospitals. And the earmarked funding is at least $2 billion short of what’s needed.
In a section called “Metro Centres Planning and Capacity Expansion,” the three facilities will share $926 million in funding between now and 2020.
Initial estimates from the PC government pegged the cost of an all-under-one-roof cancer centre at $1.3 billion. Premier Prentice upped that amount to $1.6 million during a January radio show interview.
An announcement on the new scope and structural plan for Calgary’s centre is expected from Premier Jim Prentice next week.
“That’s when the premier wants to announce it – on Monday – he’ll do all those details,” said health minister Stephen Mandel, after the budget was tabled.
Mandel was asked if Calgarians would be happy with what’s planned. “I think so, I think they’ll be very happy,” he said.
But John Osler from the Concerned Citizens for the Calgary Cancer Centre (C5) called the budget a disappointment for cancer patients.
“It’s a crushing disappointment for Calgary and Southern Alberta cancer patients and their families,” said Osler. “Absolutely devastating. So far from what was promised, so far from what is necessary.”
Osler’s group said in a release a comprehensive centre was agreed upon by all stakeholders in 2013 that government announced would be built at the Foothills Campus. The release pointed to two years of planning and an investment of $20 million “which seems to be an investment the government is simply prepared to walk away from.”
“The former Mayor of Edmonton and now Minister of Health does not seem to understand how important a comprehensive cancer centre is to Calgarians. Edmonton has one but Calgary will not,” said Osler.
FULL COVERAGE: Alberta Budget 2015
The Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation sounded the alarm over the declining state of the 1960s-built main facility in its 2013-14 Report to the Community. It said “aging infrastructure” makes it difficult to maintain operations at an emergency department that handles more surgeries than any other Alberta hospital. The PC government has also long been under fire to replace the 45-year-old Misericordia , which has been plagued with problems including floods. Estimates have pegged total cost of repairs at $1 billion for each Edmonton facility.
Global News obtained an internal document from the Alberta Cancer Foundation on March 18 that suggested fundraising for a new one-stop cancer centre in Calgary appeared to be over, with no intentions of planning or budgeting for a new building or renovation at the Foothills Medical Centre site, where the Tom Baker Cancer Centre still operates.
The note said facilities would be developed in two phases and at two sites—a “significantly reduced scope and cost” at the South Health Campus and a “potential new build or renovation at Foothills” but with “no intent to actively plan nor budget” at the time. It said the Tom Baker Cancer Centre will continue to provide services.
In response to that Alberta Cancer Foundation document, Health Minister Stephen Mandel’s press secretary told Global News on March 18 the government is looking at South Campus as an option, “working to make this project happen.” In February, Steve Buick said Mandel was “looking hard” at the South Campus as an alternative to Foothills for the new cancer centre.
“The minister has committed the cancer centre as one of his highest priorities for this year’s budget and the people of Calgary should certainly be optimistic,” said Buick on Feb. 10.
In December, the province said a replacement for the Tom Baker Cancer Centre would be delayed indefinitely, despite a scheduled construction start of early 2016. This was due to a review of spending prompted by the drastic drop in oil prices.
The facility had already been delayed several times, and was originally promised a decade ago. The delay prompted hundreds to rally in January 2015, including Alberta Cancer Foundation’s Lynn Van Hyfte, who suggested Calgary is the only city of its size in Canada without a “comprehensive” cancer care centre.
The Alberta Cancer Foundation had planned to raise $200 million to put towards the new centre—funding the March document said has since been stopped.
With files from Mia Sosiak, Melissa Ramsay and Trish Kozicka