Health care is being given top priority in Alberta’s first budget since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The provincial government says it will focus on protecting the lives of Albertans and funding health care needs while it slowly gets the pandemic under control.
On Feb. 25, the UCP government tabled its third provincial budget, highlighting health care as the priority for spending for the remainder of the pandemic.
“Adequately resourcing health care is our number one priority,” Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews said.
The province is increasing health spending by around $900 million for 2021-22, pushing total spending on that portfolio to $23 billion for the fiscal year, including $1.25 billion set aside for COVID-19 costs. Last year, the government spent around $1.5 billion on the pandemic, including money given out through the critical worker benefit for Alberta Health Services staff and contact tracing, along with another $530 million for personal protective gear (PPE).
Another $112 million was spent last year for emergency isolation payments and support for women’s shelters and homelessness with $174 million allocated for Education PPE and Safe Return to Class.
The province's budget for health next year is an increase of more than four per cent from the current year. Money out of the $1.25 billion set aside for COVID-19 costs will fund pandemic-related programs, like expanding health care capacity, personal protective equipment (PPE), vaccine administration, and contact tracing and testing.
After next year, health care spending will stay flat at $23 billion for the following two years.
By the numbers
Continuing care facilities will get a bump of $200 million this year, pushing funding for those facilities to $3.5 billion.
As the mental health of Albertans suffers during the pandemic, the provincial government is injecting another $140 million into support programs over four years.
Overall, the government will be trimming more than 1,000 public-sector positions throughout many ministries, done through attrition or previously announced reductions, but Alberta Health Services will add another 3,000 jobs to reduce surgical wait times and beef up contact tracing.
Acute care has been given $4.1 billion for inpatient services, which includes operating funding for the Alberta Surgical Initiative. The province is planning on lowering the wait time for some benchmark surgeries, including knee and hip replacements and cataract surgery, up to national wait time average.