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Hospital foundation launches ER fundraiser despite drop in use

CANMORE – The Canmore and Area Hospital Foundation is embarking on its largest fundraising drive ever to renovate and expand the hospital’s emergency room, however data provided by Alberta Health Services (AHS) shows the number of people accessing ca
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A video posted by the Canmore and Area Hospital Foundation provided inaccurate information to support its fundraising drive to renovate and expand the hospital’s emergency room.

CANMORE – The Canmore and Area Hospital Foundation is embarking on its largest fundraising drive ever to renovate and expand the hospital’s emergency room, however data provided by Alberta Health Services (AHS) shows the number of people accessing care at the ER has decreased over the past decade.

In January, the foundation announced it was launching a $4.8 million fundraising drive to help improve the size and flow of the department, including adding a few more beds to improve patient privacy.

In a video message to support the campaign, Dr. Mike Wickham, the hospital’s lead emergency physician and a member of the board, claimed the number of people using the emergency room has jumped from approximately 11,000 visits a year to 20,000 visits annually over the last 20 years.

An accompanying story with unattributed statistics also claimed the number of patients is growing every year.

Those claims, however, appear to be inflated according to data provided by AHS, which shows that emergency department use at Canmore General Hospital has actually gone down over the past 10 years from a high of 18,780 visits in 2007-08.

In fact, in 2018 there were 14,197 visits to the hospital’s emergency room, about 400 fewer visits than in 2017.

“At this time, AHS has not identified to government the need for an expansion of the emergency department at the Canmore General Hospital,” wrote Aaron Manton, a cabinet communications officer for the minister of health.

The Outlook tried to contact Wickham several times to clarify his comments, but was unable to reach him.

After pressing the foundation to clarify its claims, Soulafa Al-Abbasi, executive director for the foundation, acknowledged the numbers they used in the video were incorrect.

“Unfortunately we used some incorrect numbers in our ER video. It was not our intention to mislead the public in any way,” wrote Al-Abbasi.

“We will be taking steps to correct the information in the video, and remain confident that the people of Canmore will support this initiative.”

The foundation has since published a correction on its website, however the accompanying story remained online as of press time.

AHS volunteered more detailed information to support the foundation’s campaign, providing data that showed since 2010-11 the emergency department has seen an increase in the number of “high acuity patients” that require extra care.

In 2010-11, there were 4,032 patients that required extra care because of the severity of their injuries. In 2017-18 that number jumped to 5,816 patients.

While AHS has not identified a need to expand the emergency room, the foundation maintained that the fundraising campaign was a worthwhile and much-needed project that will enhance the workspace for frontline healthcare providers and in turn benefit patients.

During an initial conversation with the Outlook, Al-Abbasi said it will likely take years for the foundation to reach its $4.8 million target and will likely cost more than $5 million by the time shovels are in the ground.

“Just to put it into perspective, the foundation, in total, has raised $5 million since its inception and that was the year 2000, so we’re currently focusing a lot of our fundraising efforts on the long-term care unit within the Canmore Hospital.”

To date, the foundation has raised more than $700,000 in three years towards its $1.5 million target for the Feels Like Home enhancement project for the Golden Eagle View long-term care unit at the hospital.

It also invested $965,000 back into the hospital in 2017-18 to buy equipment, support programs and to help pay for some upgrades.

Al-Abbasi downplayed questions about whether fundraising to expand the emergency room was allowing the government to abdicate its responsibility to fund public health care.

“For us it’s more about how we enhance the quality of health care and make sure wherever there is a need we’re supporting the need regardless of whether there will be funding from the government or not,” said Al-Abbasi. “We don’t want to wait.”

That being said, she warmly welcomed any investment from the provincial government.

“We’re not taking that out of the equation because it is something that I would think they would identify as a priority because it touches a lot of groups in our community and beyond our community.”

She said the foundation has yet to talk to AHS about the project, but was hopeful the government would match, or contribute to their fundraising goal.

Barb Shellian, director of rural health for AHS Calgary zone, said the provincial health authority has provided money for several renovations at the hospital, however foundations still play an important role to help fundraise money for equipment, programs and renovations.

“It would be nice if Alberta Health Services could fund absolutely everything that people need, but we do count on the generosity and hard work of foundations whether it’s in Canmore or any other community in Alberta,” said Shellian, who is also an ex-offico member of the foundation.

“The reality is there’s a big need and there’s limited resources, so foundations help address that gap.”

Paul Clarke

About the Author: Paul Clarke

Paul Clarke has spent the past four years working as a community news reporter in Jasper, Banff and Canmore.
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