Province to completely restructure Alberta Health Services in the next 18 to 24 months

Almost 14 years after its creation, the Alberta government is decentralizing AHS into four separate areas. Advocates for public healthcare say it doesn’t address real problems faced by the system.

The picture is now clearer on what the overhaul of Alberta’s healthcare system will look like.

After a supposed leak of the plans Tuesday, the Alberta government unveiled its vision Wednesday morning.

Officials said that over the next 18 to 24 months, the province will be completely restructuring the way in which Alberta Health Services (AHS) operates.

The documents outlining the plan were supposedly leaked Tuesday, with opposition leader Rachel Notley claiming she received them from an anonymous source in the mail.

“It’s a blueprint for catastrophic chaos in our clinics and our hospitals,” she said ahead of the province’s announcement.

Alberta’s long-awaited healthcare reform plan has been in talks by the UCP and Premier Danielle Smith for over a year.

Now, the province says it’s creating one provincial healthcare system with “specialized areas of focus” by dividing AHS into four separate organizations, being primary care, acute care, continuing care, and mental health and addictions.

Watch: Alberta Health Services restructure will lead to chaos: expert

Additionally, 13 advisory councils will be created, including one Indigenous council, representing regional perspectives and advising these new organizations.

Smith said this plan has nothing to do with privatization.

“I made a public healthcare guarantee to Albertans,” she said. “That means no one will ever pay out of pocket for a visit to a doctor or healthcare services — and that’s not changing.”

The transition will be overseen by the new transition team, and will start with the creation of the continuing care organization expected to be complete by the spring, followed by the mental health and addictions organization, then primary care, and finally, the establishment of an acute care organization by fall 2024.

During the transition process, the way in which someone access health services will not change, and the province says they will work to ensure healthcare workers aren’t disrupted too much during the change.

But how much will this cost? The province referred to an envelope of funding set aside based on the cost of the 2008 transition, but doesn’t have an exact cost at this time.

WATCH: Reaction to Alberta’s healthcare overhaul

United Nurses of Alberta raises concerns

Meanwhile, the United Nurses of Alberta says they see nothing of benefit coming from the province’s announcement.

The UNA adds a nursing shortage is the main thing that should be addressed, and the restructuring of the administration won’t deal with this.

United Nurses of Alberta sees nothing in the breakup of Alberta Health Services and the restructuring of the administration of public health care announced this morning by the provincial government that will address the principal crisis that concerns most nurses – chronic understaffing and overwork caused by the shortage of nurses.

“The wrong diagnosis always creates the wrong treatment,” said Heather Smith, President of UNA in a statement. “The government has diagnosed the problem in Alberta’s health care system as being the structure of AHS. A far more serious problem is the shortage of nurses and other medical professionals, as well as beds and capacity. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater!” 

Smith adds that she predicts the province’s plan will make the “problem worse,” saying, “It seems likely the chaos in the health care system will be a roadblock to the retention and recruitment of nurses.”

Smith adds the UNA is urging Minister LaGrange and Premier Smith not to destabilize AHS.

The UNA will also continue asking many unanswered questions regarding the impact to its members and their jobs.

“We will aggressively seek answers to these questions and communicate them to our members,” said Smith. 

Friends of Medicare says privatization is top concern

Healthcare lobby group, the Friends of Medicare, isn’t encourage by the announcement.

President Chris Gallaway says their organization is even more worried now about further privatization.

“Over and over we heard them say, ‘It’s not about privatizing,’ proactively without even being asked and so I think it’s very clear they’re thinking about privatizing more services and they’re very worried the public doesn’t support it,” he told CityNews.

“For us, that’s what it comes down to — they didn’t run on this in the election — they talk about how they’ve been seeing these problems for a long time, these are great, bold, innovative solutions — why didn’t they run on them? Why wasn’t there a platform? Why didn’t they put this to Albertans just a few months ago in our election?” Gallaway continued.

Gallaway says the idea behind AHS as one entity was to streamline everything under one umbrella, and moving to fragment it into four areas of care will create more problems.

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