WATCH ABOVE: The NDP government has announced that a new cancer centre will be built at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre. Heather Yourex has more.
CALGARY – Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman announced Wednesday the government will build a comprehensive cancer centre at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre, with the goal of opening to patients by 2020.
Hoffman said she weighed all options and decided Foothills was best for patients. She said she thinks it’s possible to build the centre for less than the $1.3 billion originally budgeted when the project was announced by Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservative government two years ago.
“Cancer patients, their families and their caregivers deserve certainty that this government is committed to the Calgary Cancer Centre,” said Hoffman in a release. “With cancer rates expected to rise in Alberta by as much as 60 per cent in the next 15 years, this new centre will be integral to meeting cancer care needs in our province.”
The government says new and expanded services at the centre will include:
- Additional inpatient beds;
- outpatient services;
- radiation therapy; and
- systemic therapy (e.g., chemotherapy).
Global News was first to report that former premier Jim Prentice was canceling the plan to build the cancer centre at Foothills last year. Former health minister Stephen Mandel said low oil prices meant the money to build the project was no longer available. During the provincial election campaign, Prentice rolled out a scaled-down plan to build a centre on two sites—at the South Health Campus hospital and at Foothills—but that wasn’t what advocates were calling for.
A number of people have been fighting ever since to bring the original project back to life and on Tuesday, they were elated.
“We had a meeting with the new minister on Monday and what a refreshing change, what a breath of fresh air,” said John Osler of Concerned Citizens for the Calgary Cancer Centre. “I knew Monday that we had a terrific chance to see this announcement… I just didn’t think it would be this quick. It really is an incredible feeling.”
When asked what assurances she could give that the project won’t be delayed again, Hoffman said the delays were due to “other people running the government.”
“We have a new government, and we are absolutely committed to fulfilling this,” she said. “I’ve done my due diligence in terms of connecting with my colleagues, looking at the number of different pressures that we’re facing and feel very supported by the stakeholders that we have in the community as is evident by their attendance here today.”
Osler said he believed the government is “absolutely committed” to completing the project.
“The minister didn’t tell us how she thought it should be, she wanted to know how we thought it should be, and that’s a very different tone than we’ve ever had from the government.”
Though a lot of the details still need to be worked out, a detailed plan and budget will be released in the fall. The government said it’s identified two potential sites at Foothills, but more analysis including geotechnical testing will determine the final decision.
The Alberta Cancer Foundation said they will once again be involved in fundraising.
“We all know Calgary’s facility is gravely out of date and with 43 Albertans facing a cancer diagnosis every day, there is increasing pressure on facilities across the province,” said CEO Myka Osinchuk in a statement. “We are looking forward to being partners with the government as they move forward with the Foothills site and working with them to make life better for Albertans facing cancer.”
The University of Calgary also applauded Foothills as the choice for the cancer centre.
“Academic health science centres are key to improving patient outcomes and lead to discoveries that improve the health of Albertans,” said university president Elizabeth Cannon in a statement. “We look forward to working with the provincial government to develop this new facility and ensure our researchers work toward better treatments for cancer.”
The Progressive Conservative caucus issued a statement saying the centre reversal was “not reassuring enough for southern Albertans.”
“Closing and rebuilding staff and patient parking lots and filling the Foothills Medical Centre with construction equipment will make it more difficult for all hospital patients to access treatment, and more difficult for the families and staff who support those with cancer,” said PC MLA for Calgary-South East Rick Fraser in a statement.
The statement claimed South Health Campus would have been a better choice, saying it’s more accessible by public transit and the Calgary Ring Road.
The Wildrose party said the government’s announcement “lacked crucial details on a timeline, budget or firm location” in a statement, and called for immediate openness and transparency on the details.
“This project has been announced and reannounced since 2005. The Foothills site has been fully studied and planned for over two years, there’s no reason for more delays,” said Shadow Health Minister Drew Barnes. “It is time to move ahead with this project, give Calgarians the full picture and finally deliver the cancer clinic southern Alberta deserves.”