By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – On June 1, 2022 it was announced that the Government of Alberta has accepted a bid by the Enoch Cree Nation to build a private surgical clinic on the First Nation’s land.
The clinic is a culmination of a new partnership between Enoch Cree Nation and Surgical Centres Inc., a private health-care operator in Canada.
“Traditionally, chartered surgical facilities haven’t performed hip and knee replacements, since many patients need to stay overnight after those surgeries,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
“But I can say that Enoch Cree Nation and Surgical Centres Inc. have stepped forward with a very strong proposal to accommodate more complex surgeries while following the stringent standards of care that we expect in Alberta.”
The clinic will be privately-owned — which has been met with some pushback from critics — as the partners are responsible for the building and equipment costs. Meanwhile, the surgeries themselves will be publicly-funded.
“Obviously they have a financial incentive. But they also want to get their patients to have shorter wait times but there’s limited capacity in the current hospital environment,” said Kenney.
The government has said they accepted the bid in an effort to combat the ever-growing backlog of surgeries in Alberta — with Health Minister Jason Copping reportedly saying that the amount surgeries on the province’s wait-list is over 70,000.
Furthermore, there are almost 23,000 patients awaiting orthopaedic surgery — one-third of them being for knee replacements.
He has also stated that more than half of all orthopaedic patients on hold for surgeries are beyond their 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,” said Copping.
The new surgical facility should be complete in the 2023-24 fiscal year and is expected to perform up to 3,000 orthopaedic procedures annually.
The current contract with Alberta Health Services (AHS) is still being created, but the government has said that the new surgical facility will allow AHS to perform 17 percent more operations in the Edmonton-area, compared to 2019 and 2020.
While the clinic will be privately-owned, one of the owners and operators is the Enoch Cree Nation, so it is expected that the clinic will be culturally-appropriate for First Nations people.
Enoch Chief Billy Morin said that the facility will staff Indigenous people, as well as include traditional healing and medicine in their work. He also invited Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike to visit the clinic upon its completion.
“When an Indigenous person from High Level comes here, they’re going to get not just the fancy building with the nice Indigenous pictures,” he said. “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.”