Planned renovations at the Airdrie Urgent Care Centre have been put on hold while the provincial government considers a new pitch.
The proposal comes from an Airdrie doctor, in partnership with a developer. It could see a new facility built and leased to the province, with a family medical practice attached.
The delay has raised concerns among local health-care advocates, who worry about the impact on patient care and what some see as a lack of transparency in the process.
The renovations were halted on Jan. 11 by the Alberta government. It had committed $8.4 million to increasing the number of beds in urgent care as well as renovating some of the clinics located in the centre. Construction was expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Airdrie family physician Dr. Julian Kyne, the director of One Health Associate Medical, is behind the late-hour pitch to Alberta Health.
"I'm looking at ways how we can make the health-care situation in Airdrie better, and this, I've got to say, I'm pretty, pretty darn excited about," he told CBC News.
Kyne says he partnered with Qualico Communities because he had one of the developer's sites in mind for the project.
Kyne runs his own practice and also works at the urgent care centre.
Proposal positively received
For years, the community of Airdrie has been asking the Alberta government for a new urgent care centre. The city of more than 80,000 doesn't have its own hospital, so the current centre is its primary health-care facility.
In the last provincial budget, the government set aside $3 million for the planning of a North Calgary/Airdrie regional health centre.
Kyne says Airdrie's current health-care facility wasn't purposely built to offer urgent care.
The city's community health centre opened in 1998. It began offering urgent care in 2007 and expanded to 24/7 services in 2017.
Kyne says the centre needs a lot of upgrades and redesigning to fully meet the needs of Airdrie — beyond the planned renos.
He also believes that many patients who come through urgent care could be seen by a family physician instead. But often, he says, they don't have one.
So in an effort to try to solve both the primary and urgent care issues in Airdrie, Kyne says he approached the health minister several months ago with an idea he says was positively received.
"I think the government saw merit in that and wanted to take a close look at it," said Kyne.
Following that initial meeting, Kyne says he began to work with a consultant and Qualico Communities to design a formal proposal.
While hesitant to share specific details, he says the proposal includes a few options.
One would see Qualico build the facility with an attached family practice. Alberta Health Services would then lease the building, an idea which is not new. The province says AHS leases several buildings to run health care programs, including a long-term lease at the Cochrane Community Health Centre.
One of the things that we have to understand is just saying we're going to fix it doesn't seem to work. - Dr. Julian Kyne
Kyne's proposal would also seek a new funding model for family physicians who work on site.
Kyne says he works closely with University of Calgary residents who would be keen to work in a family practice as long as they were appropriately compensated.
"One of the things that we have to understand is just saying we're going to fix it doesn't seem to work," he said.
"We need to kind of change everything — our approach, how we look after patients, how physicians and nurse practitioners are incentivized and how they're paid and what services we provide and how timely we are with our services. So a huge shift to making the patient the absolute focus of what we're going to do."
CBC News reached out to Qualico Communities, but they deferred any comment to Alberta Health or One Health Associate Medical.
Pause raises concerns
Some health advocates say they are frustrated and disappointed by this pause in the renovations. And they say they are worried about the potential impact on patient care if they have to wait for a new facility to get built.
"Our patients need something now … there's no way this would be built by the end of this year," said Michelle Bates, the executive director of the Airdrie Health Foundation.
She says there are 14 beds and chairs in the urgent care centre and the renovations were supposed to bring that total to just over 20 spaces.
Bates says she's also upset by the lack of information being provided on such an important project. She says the Airdrie Health Foundation is a major stakeholder with the centre yet they have not been kept up to date on what's happening.
That lack of transparency is raising some red flags for Friends of Medicare as well.
Chris Gallaway is the executive director of Friends of Medicare. (CBC)
"It raises a lot of questions about what's happening in the background. Why would the government accept a proposal from two private companies mid project … [and] without public notice is concerning to us," said Chris Gallaway, the executive director of Friends of Medicare.
When asked about the pause by CBC News, a spokesperson for the minister of health said in a statement, "Renovations to the Airdrie Urgent Care Centre are on hold while Alberta Health evaluates a new proposal. This due diligence is to ensure Albertans receive value for money spent."
The statement says the government "remains committed to this publicly funded capital project and to ensuring that once operational, the site provides publicly funded health services.
"Government is always looking for innovative ways to improve health-care delivery."
But the province wouldn't provide any details about the new proposal under consideration.
In the meantime, Bates says she will continue to press for more information.
"We're writing letters and talking with our stakeholders, and I guess if it's with the ministry and they're waiting for a proposal, we just have to wait, too," said Bates.
Kyne expects the proposal to be finished and submitted within the next few weeks. Then, he says, he'll look forward to engaging with the public.
"It was a little fortuitous that, you know, the government came in and said we want to look at how we can do some things differently, which you know, sometimes it's a little scary thing. But sometimes it's also a good thing," said Kyne.