The Alberta government has approved a bid by the Enoch Cree Nation near Edmonton to build a private clinic to perform thousands of publicly covered hip and knee surgeries.
Health Minister Jason Copping says the clinic is to be built by the middle of next year to reduce a backlog of orthopedic operations in and around the capital.
The clinic will be a partnership between the Enoch Cree and Surgical Centres Inc., a private operator that runs seven clinics in Canada, including two in Calgary.
Alberta Health says the partners will be responsible for building and equipment costs, while surgeries themselves are to be covered by public funds.
Copping says there are almost 23,000 Albertans waiting for orthopedic surgeries, one-third of those for knee replacements.
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Enoch Cree Chief Billy Morin says the centre will offer culturally appropriate care as well.
“When an Indigenous person from High Level comes here, they’re going to get not just the fancy building with the nice Indigenous pictures,” Morin said Wednesday.
“They’re going to get a new experience where they’re going to have a Dene person talking to them. They’re going to have traditional healing and medicine right here on the First Nation offered to them as well and to all Albertans, quite frankly, if they want to go down that road, too.”
It’s expected the clinic will perform up to 3,000 orthopedic procedures a year, an estimated 17 per cent increase in the Edmonton region.
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Copping said more than half of all Alberta orthopedic patients are on hold for surgery beyond recommended wait times.
“People are waiting far too long for hip and knee replacements. We need to do a lot more of them and this is going to help us get it done.”
Copping said the project is modeled on cataracts and other eye procedures done under public care in private clinics to reduce waitlists.
The total surgical waitlist is pegged at just over 70,000.
Copping said having the work done through private clinics saves money, but the Opposition NDP said it’s actually more expensive and inefficient in the long run.
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“The UCP has provided no reason why new surgery facilities cannot be built in and operated in the public system,” said health critic David Shepherd.
“The UCP’s surgical initiative provides public dollars to help private companies profit, while deliberately neglecting Alberta’s public health care.
“The UCP’s mismanagement of health care and neglect of the public system has caused partial closures in more than 20 hospitals across Alberta.”