Clinic facilities

Alberta accepts offer for private hip and knee surgery clinic on First Nations land

Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping speaks to the media in Edmonton on September 21, 2021.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

The Alberta government has approved an offer from the Enoch Cree Nation near Edmonton to build a private clinic to perform thousands of state-funded hip and knee surgeries.

Health Minister Jason Copping said the clinic should be built by the middle of next year to reduce the backlog of orthopedic operations in and around the capital.

The clinic will be a partnership between Enoch Cree and Surgical Centers Inc., a private operator that operates seven clinics across Canada, including two in Calgary.

Alberta Health says the partners will be responsible for construction and equipment costs, while the surgeries themselves will be covered by public funds.

Copping says there are nearly 23,000 Albertans waiting for orthopedic surgery, a third of them for knee replacement surgery.

Enoch Cree Chief Billy Morin says the center will also provide culturally appropriate care.

“When a High Level Native comes here, they don’t just get the fancy building with the nice Native pictures,” Morin said Wednesday.

“They’re going to have a new experience where they’ll have a Dene talking to them. Traditional healing and medicine is going to be available to them right here on the First Nation – and to all Albertans, quite frankly, if they want to go that route too.

The clinic is expected to perform up to 3,000 orthopedic procedures per year, an estimated 17% increase in the Edmonton area.

Copping said more than half of all orthopedic patients in Alberta are waiting for surgery beyond recommended wait times.

“People are waiting far too long for hip and knee replacement surgery. We need to do a lot more and this will help us do that.

Copping said the project is modeled after cataract and other eye procedures done in public care at private clinics to reduce waiting lists.

The total surgery waiting list is set at just over 70,000.

Copping said having the work done in public clinics saves money, but the opposition NDP said it was actually more expensive and inefficient in the long run.

“UCP has provided no reason why new surgical facilities cannot be built and operated in the public system,” health critic David Shepherd said.

“UCP’s surgical initiative provides public funds to help private companies make profits, while deliberately neglecting Alberta’s public health care.

“Mismanagement of health care by the UCP and neglect of the public system has caused partial closures at more than 20 hospitals across Alberta.

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