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Alberta health minister recognizes fundraising efforts during Sundre hospital gala

Sundre Hospital Legacy Gala guest speaker Adriana LaGrange claims government “empowering health-care workers and supporting local decision-making”

SUNDRE – Alberta’s health minister told a large crowd that community fundraisers play an important role toward supporting local health-care facilities and services.

“Funds raised through events like tonight’s gala play a crucial role in enhancing patient care of the Sundre hospital,” Adriana LaGrange, who is also the MLA for Red Deer North, told a capacity crowd at the Sundre Community Centre on Saturday night during the annual Sundre Hospital Legacy Gala.

“This year’s gala is particularly special as it aims to raise funds for … the care and comfort of seniors,” said LaGrange, who praised the work of organizers and volunteers in putting on the event.

“It is a crucial effort as we see a growing number of people living longer and wishing to remain in their home communities,” she said.

“And we need to help you stay in your home communities,” she said.

“We are empowering health-care workers and supporting local decision-making based on regional needs, all with the goal of providing better and faster access to services,” she said to applause.

Recognizing that recruiting and retaining health-care providers is an ongoing challenge, LaGrange said new doctors have come to start practising in Alberta over the past few months.

“While change takes time and while we are seeing positive results in many areas, we know that more needs to be done and more people are needed,” she said.

“I know that working together, we’re going to accomplish great things.”

Introducing the health minister to the stage was Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre riding’s MLA Jason Nixon, who is also the minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services.

Praising the Sundre Hospital Futures Commitee’s tireless commitment to supporting local health-care, he said, “They have stood with us so many times to protect the hospital and health care inside this community.”

Recalling back to the time in 2016 when Alberta Health Services had announced its intention to close the local hospital’s 15 long-term care beds under the justification that the Sundre Seniors’ Supportive Living centre was then about to open, Nixon said the committee is “the first always to respond to drive Edmonton to the stand with me as the local representative.

“Because of them and their hard work, Sundre will continue to have a hospital for decades to come,” he said.

As he concluded his address, Nixon also said he was proud to be selected by Premier Danielle Smith alongside LaGrange and Dan Williams, minister of Mental Health and Addiction.

“Three rural ministers to work to be able to reform health care to make sure that health care works all across Alberta; but most importantly, that rural Alberta will no longer be forgotten,” he said to a round of applause.

Opening the evening’s addresses were Sundre mayor Richard Warnock and Mountain View County reeve Angela Aalbers, who both expressed gratitude to the volunteers and organizers as well as everyone who came out to support the cause.

“Without volunteers, these events don’t happen,” said Warnock.

Aalbers also offered a shoutout to the county’s counterparts on Sundre’s town council, saying, “I don’t think our relationship has ever been as good as it is right now.”

Gerald Ingeveld, chair of the Sundre Hospital Futures Committee, said the non-profit organization’s firm belief is that the best way to recruit and retain physicians and nurses is to foster opportunities for local students who are interested in a career in medicine.

That’s why the committee also allocates funds raised toward bursaries for local students who are either just starting on the path to pursuing a career in health care, or perhaps seeking to upgrade existing credentials.

Heidi Overguard, committee vice-chair and lead gala organizer, introduced the scholarship established in honour of her late mother Joanne Overguard. At one point momentarily pausing as she struggled through tears, a sudden round of supportive applause from the crowd encouraged her on through the rest of the scholarship presentations.

With the evening’s formalities tended to, the night continued on with a silent auction that featured about 100 items as well as a live auction.

“This was the first year that we did sponsorships,” said Ingeveld. “We were hoping that we could get five or $6,000 from that, but it ended up being $20,000 in sponsorships. So, that exceeded our expectations.”

Once the smoke settles and the last bills are covered, he anticipates the fundraiser will have netted about $70,000. That included two separate $10,000 donations – one from an anonymous contributor and the other from the Royal Canadian Legion Sundre Branch #223, he said.

“I think by the time we add everything up, it’ll be the most that we’ve raised,” he said, adding the bulk of donations come from local companies, business people and private residents.

The annual gala also serves as a kickoff to the committee’s next capital fundraising campaign.

“The capital campaign this year for the hospital is geared for seniors,” he said. “We have far more than the provincial average of seniors in our hospital.”

As a result, there essentially are always patients in the hospital waiting for a bed to become available at the nearest care facility.

“There’s certainly no vacancies for care. I mean, every bed that offers care has someone in it,” he said.

With the steady march of technological advancements, newer beds offer a far greater level of comfort and patient care; one was already purchased for long-term care by the Sundre Hospital Auxiliary, he said. 

“So we looked at that and said, ‘You know, for the number of seniors that we always have in our hospital, let’s replace all of our beds and get them into those modern beds,’” he said.

“We’re looking at 16 beds all together,” he said, adding the goal for this year will be to replace 10.

The campaign will run over the span of two years, with the first year’s goal being to raise about $280,000 followed next year by well over $100,000.

The funds will also help secure new patient lifts in acute care rooms, with each unit costing about $6,000 or $7,000, he said.

“Nurses are doing a lot more lifting than they should,” he said.

And the committee also has plans to better accommodate heavier patients.

“There are people walking around our community that are well over 400 pounds,” he said.

“We’re putting together an actual bariatric room,” he said, adding the goal is to make sure it’s equipped with a special bed and specialized chairs as well as a heavy duty lift.

That room will still be able to provide treatment space for any patient but will more comfortably accommodate heavier patients, he said.

So while the campaign is geared towards seniors, the entire community will benefit as a whole, he said.

And while the Sundre Hospital Futures Committee remains in the short-term committed to objectives including recruitment and retention as well as supporting individuals pursuing a path in medicine, its ultimate goal is to eventually establish within Sundre a campus of care that offers a model for other rural municipalities to emulate.

Encouraged by yet another sell-out crowd at the gala, the committee is confident about reaching its goal, he said.

“We had anticipated leaving a bigger area for a dance floor,” he said, adding some people who sought tickets at the last minute were accommodated.

“It’s just something special to stand up on that stage and look out over the decorations and over the tables and our whole community; and this was our community coming out in a very special way,” he said, adding the enthusiastic outpouring of support goes a long way toward encouraging the committee to continue its work.

Beyond the local support, Ingeveld also said he was impressed by how closely the provincial government is monitoring what the committee is doing.

While a health minister has in the past visited Sundre, it was the first time a health minister attended the gala, he said.

Asked if he is confident that the provincial government’s major middle-management musical chairs as Alberta Health Services is broken down into four new organizations – primary, acute, continuing as well as mental health and addictions – will ultimately help to alleviate staffing shortages on the frontlines, he said, “Oh, absolutely. AHS just got too big and too heavy.”

The Sundre hospital’s site lead has six different people that act as their manager, and even maintenance matters cannot be addressed without first speaking to and getting approval from a manager in the city “in an office somewhere ticking off boxes,” he said.

“The more we do with health care, the more involved we are as lay people, the more complicated we see it because there are so many facets to it,” he said, adding medicine itself continues to get more complicated as advancements herald new technologies, specialized fields, and new treatments.

“There’s just no way it can be run in a pyramid structure anymore, it’s just too hard,” he said, asserting that health care should be broken up to a point were those who are put in charge of each aspect from primary to acute care are expected to work together to find solutions that work for rural settings.

“If we can get people that really want to work together instead of protecting their little silos, then I think it’ll be much better,” he said. “Anyways, that’s my hope.”

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel joined Mountain View Publishing in 2015 after working for the Vulcan Advocate since 2007, and graduated among the top of his class from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's journalism program in 2006.
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