The Calgary Cancer Centre: Exploring All Options

Last week I wrote a letter to Health Minister Sarah Hoffman.  Below you can see a copy of my letter:

Hoffman

Hoffman 2

In the letter I state, “I am in absolute agreement that the Calgary cancer centre must be a comprehensive, single-site, under-one-roof facility.  That being said, it is my belief that this facility should be located at the South Health Campus in southeast Calgary.  It is my belief that the South Health Campus has considerable logistical and cost advantages that would not be fully realized at the Foothills location.”

This view is not about what would be most convenient for the residents of Ward 12; it has more to do with identifying what the best site for the cancer centre will be.  The Health Minister recently said that more time is needed before a decision on the site can be made.

The South Health Campus
The South Health Campus

When we think about the site there are numerous factors that must be considered.  Here are a few of those factors that come to my mind:

  • Cost effectiveness. With uncertain economic realities facing Alberta we need to find the most cost effective way to provide this service.  A cancer centre is desperately needed, but this will still ultimately need to fit into the infrastructure budget for the Provincial government.
  • Accessibility.  The new cancer centre will need to be accessible for Southern Albertans.  Connectivity with major road networks and public transit will be of critical importance.  The cancer centre must be as accessible for Albertans in Airdrie and High River as it is for Calgarians.
  • Construction time. The original plan was to have a cancer centre constructed by 2020.  We need a proposal for a comprehensive centre that includes a research component that can be completed in a reasonable timeframe.  There is a dire need for this centre and Albertans should not be expected to wait for 10-15 years.

It cannot be disputed that the South Health Campus and the Foothills sites both offer their own set of pros and cons:

South Health Campus

Pros

  • Lower infrastructure costs
    • I have heard speculation that the costs savings could be upwards of $800 million.  The Provincial government will need to confirm what the savings would be.
    • Savings could offset operational costs and open up capital for other infrastructure projects.
    • Savings on interest alone for reduced infrastructure cost would be substantial.
  • Terrific access via Stoney Trail and Deerfoot Trail.
    • The location offers very convenient access for Calgarians that have easy access to Deerfoot and Stoney as well other municipalities both north, east and south of Calgary like Airdrie, High River, Okotoks, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.
    • The completion of the SW ring road would also open up this location to other urban centres to the north and west of Calgary.
Access to the South Health Campus via Deerfoot and Stoney
Access to the South Health Campus via Deerfoot and Stoney
  • Access to LRT.
    • The future SE LRT line will have front door access to the South Health Campus.
  • Access to parking.
    • There are numerous parking lots and substantial underground parking already available.
  • Construction head start.
    • The foundation is already poured and many structural supports and elevator shafts are already in place as you can see in the photo below.  These sites are located to the east and west of the existing South Health Campus which you can see in the first photo.  Construction could start seamlessly and move forward quickly.
Foundation, structural supports and elevator shafts at South Health Campus site
Foundation, structural supports and elevator shafts at South Health Campus site
  • Connectivity with the existing South Health Campus.
    • The South Health Campus is a state of the art facility.  The facility was designed to allow for quick and effective expansions such as the new cancer centre.

Cons

  • Higher operational costs.
    • I have heard estimations that operational costs could be $1-2 million higher at this location.  These figures would require verification from the Provincial government.
  • Geographic location.
    • There have been some concerns about accessibility of a site deep in any quadrant of the city.
  • Distance from the University of Calgary.
    • This could have an impact on the research component of the cancer centre.  The original proposal for the South Health Campus site included a research element in collaboration with the University of Calgary.  This would need to be carefully considered by the Provincial government as research is a crucial component of any cancer centre.  Having a comprehensive cancer care facility that is not located next to a university campus may not be ideal, but it certainly would not be unprecedented.

Foothills

Pros

  • Lower operational costs.
    • It has been speculated that operational costs at Foothills could be $1-2 million annually.  These figures would need to be verified and considered.
  • Central location.
    • The central location is geographically convenient for many Calgarians.
The Foothills Hospital
The Foothills Hospital
  • Proximity to the existing Foothills hospital as well as the Children’s Hospital.
    • A location closer to preexisting medical facilities would allow more convenience for patients and doctors alike.
  • Proximity to the University of Calgary.
    • The location would be very advantageous from a research standpoint.

Cons

  • Infrastructure Costs.
    • I have heard reports that the Foothills site would cost upwards of $800 million more than the South Health Campus site.  Currently there is no head start on a definitive site.  There have been some proposals on how to redevelop some existing lands, but those discussions are still ongoing.  These figures would need to be verified and considered by the Provincial government.
  • Direct access to LRT.
    • I cannot foresee a time that the Foothills site would have direct access to the LRT.  The closest LRT station would likely be at the University of Calgary.
  • Accessibility for Southern Albertans.
    • For folks coming to Calgary from the south, this site is not the most convenient.  Crowchild and 16th Avenue are both major roadways that face considerable congestion (much like Deerfoot in the southeast).  A patient traveling from somewhere like High River would have a considerable commute to get to the Foothills site.
  • Construction Time.
    • There would be no head start on construction at the Foothills site.  Construction would effectively be starting from square one.
  • Density.
    • This site would see added density to a location that is already heavily utilized.  The capacity to add this much additional density may be difficult.

If the Provincial government is set to review the Calgary cancer centre, it is important for every option to be considered.    It is my perspective that the South Health Campus is the best option.  I recently shared my perspective on this issue on Twitter and was very surprised at some of the reactions I received.  I am still shocked that there are individuals that summarily dismiss a suggestion simply because they disagree.  It is far easier to take political potshots than to offer a well articulated and factual defence of a position while also considering the other side of the argument.

There are numerous biases when it comes to this issue: there is the bias of the previous government, the bias of those that prefer the Foothills location, and the bias of those that prefer the South Health Campus location.  It is important that we separate bias from fact.  Those that would advocate for either site should do so while presenting facts and relevant information.

It should come as no secret to anyone that the South Health Campus is located in Ward 12.  There were some suggestions that I am making an argument for the South Health Campus purely for political gain.  I find this assessment both petty and ridiculous.  The Provincial government will need to identify a site that takes the factors I listed above into consideration.  Southern Albertans are in desperate need of this facility and a site must be identified that can conveniently service the largest amount of people in the most cost effective way possible.  The Provincial government has stated that we will be facing some financial difficulties in the immediate future.  If that is the case, a site that could potentially save $800 million makes a lot of sense to me, but those numbers would need to be carefully scrutinized by the Province.

My perspective is just that, my perspective.  I find suggestions that I am only advocating for “my regional fiefdom” very disrespectful.  If we want to reach the best possible solution we have to be willing to discuss all of the options on the table, and that includes perspectives that we do not agree with.  Issues like this require a great deal of debate and thought.  Let’s talk about this issue, but let’s talk about it in a manner that is open, respectful and considers all angles.