High cost, slow opening and potential staffing issues spark concern

The South Health Campus opened partly on September 6. So far, only the facility’s diagnostic imaging and family clinics are open. The long-awaited emergency department is set to open early 2013.

However, the facility is under scrutiny for its big budget and slow phased opening.

In 2005, the campus was estimated to cost $552.5 million. The campus is now costing the provincial government and taxpayers $1.3 billion.

 However, Robert Storrier, public affairs officer at Alberta Infrastructure, said the original $552.5 million budget was approved based on the understanding that the plans for the campus would need more refinement.

Changes and additions to the campus’ plans expanded over the years, which helped influence the need for a larger budget.

“It really turned from a small project to one that would meet the long-term and present needs of the Calgary area,” Storrier said.

The plans turned from just building a hospital into raising a campus, he said. It has become a giant facility that sits on 44 acres of land, which will include a wellness centre and a YMCA.

The Wellness Centre – a partnership between Alberta Health Services, the YMCA and the University of Calgary – will offer additional support and educational programs for patients and their families in order to encourage healthy lifestyles.

By its full opening in late 2013, hospital services will include:

·  Emergency services
·  269 inpatient beds
·  11 operating rooms
·  A neuroscience and cardiac department
·  Outpatient clinics (surgery, women’s health, mental health and pediatrics)
·  Diagnostic imaging services (x-ray, ultrasound, CT and MRI scanners)
·  Family clinics with nine doctors

The family clinic will also serve as a training site for health care students. The campus is expected to alleviate overcrowding at other Calgary emergency rooms as well as lessen wait times for surgery and diagnostic imaging. It will also give south Calgary closer access to health care.

The emergency department is set to open early 2013. So far, only the family clinic and diagnostics services are open.

Photo By Pauline Zulueta 

Multiple delays

But ongoing planning and changes in the facility’s design take time.

This is normal for many construction projects though, said David Allwright, associate dean of Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University.

“In almost every major construction project, the blueprints are being done as the building is being built,” he said.

Allwright puts it this way: “You could never design a project like this right down to the last doorknob or the last plugin.”

This means costs and timelines will inevitably change.

Over the years, the opening date has moved multiple times. During the early planning stages, the hospital was expected to open by 2010. In 2007, it was reported the hospital would open in spring 2011. Part of the facility just opened weeks ago.

Delays cost money because it prolongs the period of inflation.

Construction supplies, labour costs and medical equipment are all subject to inflation, which will contribute to the growing price tag over time.

Dr. David Swann, Calgary-Mountain View MLA and Liberal health critic, said, “Everything has gone up (in costs) because they didn’t get it done earlier.”

“I would argue that there hasn’t been careful oversight over the implementation of the budget,” he said. “It’s been painfully slow and wastefully done.”

Subhead: Potential staffing problem

There have also been concerns over the ongoing hiring of a total of 2,400 staff members and 180 physicians amidst an already critical nursing shortage.

Lori Anderson, vice president of the South Calgary Health Campus, said the phased openings would ensure that departments are staffed and fully operational before servicing the public.

Anderson said the hiring process is currently on track and the departments currently open are fully staffed.
“We’ve been working really close with our union partners to ensure that there are staff to replace at the right time,” she said.

Over 1,000 staff positions have been filled throughout the Calgary zone to support the hiring at the South Calgary Health Campus as well as to ensure other facilities’ staffing needs are met.

“We’ve been conducting both national and international searches as well,” Anderson said.

Unfortunately, staff recruitment, hiring and training take time too.

The bottom line

Swann said, “Albertans just want adequate numbers of hospital beds that are fully staffed and are able to take the load off the other hospitals.”

And with a focus on wellness and healthy living, the campus is expected to do more than just treat patients.

Anderson said, “The South Health Campus is redefining the way health care is delivered by integrating technology, research and education within a unique healing environment.”

pzulueta@cjournal.ca