The Grande Prairie Regional Hospital is still scheduled for completion this summer despite the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard.
In February, the province said the hospital was about 85 per cent done.
“So far, they’re on track for a summer turnover to AHS, which is remarkable,” Allard said in a Thursday interview.
While Alberta is working to increase its health-care capacity to address the pandemic, Allard said fast-tracking the hospital would be unlikely.
“When we turn it over to Alberta Health Services, there’s still a six-to-nine month commissioning that has to happen; they have to test every system,” she said, adding that the long-term trajectory of the pandemic was still unclear.
First announced in 2007, the 64,000 square-metre facility was originally slated for completion in 2015 but has been repeatedly delayed.
In September 2018, the former NDP government announced the termination of its contract with Graham Construction as construction manager, citing concerns over the project’s timeline and budget. Graham Construction has disputed these claims.
Work was suspended for several months before the province hired Clark Builders as the replacement.
The province was later accused of owing a collective $60 million to 26 subcontractors for work on the hospital. The Alberta Court of Queens Bench later ordered a payment of $13 million and another of $10 million to subcontractors from $30 million in court-held government funds.
Allard noted she has toured the hospital, on average, every four weeks since getting elected in spring 2019 and works with Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda to identify any delays in the project and address them “in a timely fashion.”
“It would have been nice to have this project done for so many reasons,” she said.
“This project was fraught with problems. It’s almost the perfect storm, and one of the commitments I made in my campaign was that once the project is completed and handed over to Alberta Health Services, we will do a fulsome review.”
This review would examine the entire timeline of the project to identify key decision points that were “not handled correctly,” Allard added.
Provincial measures addressing COVID-19
Albertans who don’t comply with self-isolation rules can now face fines up to $1,000 per violation.
Public health orders subject to fines for violation include anyone who fails to self-isolate after returning from outside the country, exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or physically contacting a confirmed case. Fines can also be issued against mass gatherings of more than 50 people.
“It’s sad that we’ve gotten to that point,” Allard said.
“I think there’s a lot of people who are still coming into the gravity of the situation. It’s so shocking and it’s so surreal that people don’t realize that they have a personal responsibility too.”
The MLA noted that her office gets multiple calls per day from concerned constituents who had spotted others not adhering to the self-isolation rules.
“We need to have some measure of consequence so that people do take it more seriously,” she added.
“As conservatives, we definitely stand for independence and freedom, and I think that’s part of the reason (why) we didn’t have enforcement sooner.”
The provincial government is also offering one-time emergency isolation support payments of $1,146 to working Albertans meeting certain criteria, such as if they are required to self-isolate or are the sole caregiver of someone in self-isolation and they have no other source of pay or compensation.
To apply for the payments, sign into the MyAlberta Emergency Isolation Support system using a verified MyAlberta Digital ID.
Allard clarified how this was a temporary program to bridge the gap until the Federal Emergency Care Benefit launches in April and was not intended to replace other income support programs.
In Grande Prairie and other health-care hubs, select licensed child care centres are reopening to provide child care for core service workers.
“They’re doing that, obviously, to make sure that our frontline workers have the supports that they need to continue to do their jobs at this time, which we couldn’t thank them enough for what they’re doing in the face of, really, some serious danger at this time,” Allard said.
“We really appreciate them, their commitment and their bravery to show up every day.”
As oil and gas struggles due to a plunge in prices that occurred just before the pandemic took off in Alberta, Allard emphasized that this was a crisis in itself.
“For this region, one of my concerns is we make sure that we are creating an environment as a government where there’s companies that remain liquid to bridge this critical time, so there’s jobs when we come out of the pandemic for our region,” she said.
“We’re very concerned about the viability right now.”