Bricks and mortar “taking precedence” over people: Critics question province’s health spending

CALGARY — The province has announced upgrades to Alberta’s health infrastructure, but the influx of funding is rubbing some critics the wrong way.

On Thursday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced five new health capital projects totaling $143 million in provincial investments.

One of those projects, an expansion of the neonatal intensive care unit at Foothills Hospital, will enter its design stages this summer.

But before that can happen, the province’s largest union wants to see some of the construction funding go towards workers.

“I think it’s just disrespect,” Alberta Union of Provincial Employees treasurer Jason Heistad told CTV News. “You’re going to put over $100 million into infrastructure when you’re cutting 11,000 jobs in the last year? Who is going to work in those facilities?”

The provincial commitment comes as the government pledges to restrict spending.

Last week’s budget promised a trimming of the public sector, including the elimination of jobs in the health system and the potential contracting out of services.

But when asked about the investment today, Shandro said he’s still confident the system has enough resources to operate effectively.

Tyler Shandro

“We are continuing to invest in AHS (Alberta Health Services) to make sure it has all the resources it needs, from equipment to facilities to its workforce,” Shandro said. “We can increase the care that people receive throughout the province.”

One Calgary political scientist says the province is in the midst of a balancing act. 

“You have to look like you are listening to the people who are delivering care and what it is that they need,” Mount Royal University’s Lori Williams said. “That’s been missing (with this government).”

In total, the province has earmarked $2.2 billion for health infrastructure projects.

Last week’s budget aims to reduce spending on public sector wages and benefits by roughly $1 billion.

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