READ: Alberta revamps health care system, creates separate units
“This latest radical disruption is not an attempt to make Albertans healthier or to provide Alberta’s healthcare professionals with a better place to work. This is a power-grab; plain and simple. But the results for patients and for healthcare workers are sadly going to be more of the chaos we’ve come to expect from the UCP. Now, we believe healthcare does need reform. We see the very real crisis unfolding in front of us; it has been for years under this UCP government. Healthcare workers are exhausted and desperate. We do need reform, but it needs to be through investment in those frontline workers through a massive recruitment and retention campaign to support those workers in true collaboration with those workers,” he said.
In Red Deer, there are currently three doctors new accepting patients, according to the Red Deer PCN website.
Regarding the Red Deer Hospital, he says the government seems to be working through the planning phase but worries the change in the healthcare system may delay the project.
“My concern is that in implementing this plan, they are going to be creating more uncertainty, more chaos, they’re going to be spending months making more [organizational] charts, hiring new positions, creating new bureaucrats, at a time when they should be focused on getting the work done. The Red Deer Regional Hospital expansion is crucial, it is a priority. It would have been a priority for an Alberta NDP government; we had plans on how we wanted to work to accelerate that. When you are tearing down the system in which that hospital operates, I fear that they may be endangering how quickly that hospital expansion can be built,” he said.
Jared Gustafson, Press Secretary for the Office of the Minister of Infrastructure, responded to this statement in an email stating, “The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre expansion will not be impacted by the health care system announcement. We remain committed to completing the project quickly and safely without compromising quality. The project is on time and is currently in the design stage, and we expect design schematics to be complete in the new year.”
Shepherd states the new plan does not show Smith’s claim that local authorities would be given more decision-making power, and that people will feel betrayed when they are met with the same regional councils.
“What we see here is Danielle Smith is now giving herself, through the Minister of Health, more power over the healthcare system directly. They are moving folks that worked in Alberta Health Services into Alberta Health, they are creating a new division for primary care that will be answerable directly to Alberta Health. So, where we formerly had much more of a separation, church and state, between government and the folks who were delivering healthcare, and making decisions based on expertise, knowledge, and folks who have that medical experience, we now have that being set up for a lot more direction directly by the Premier,” he said.
He says local communities can feel empowered if they are provided with the resources and funding needed to deliver healthcare, especially if they are being downloaded added responsibilities.
Charlotte Taillon, Senior Press Secretary for the Minister of Health, responded to these claims in a statement:
“Alberta’s government is taking significant action to make health care better for Albertans and frontline workers who work tirelessly every day to serve their patients.
We are strengthening our single provincial and publicly funded health care system to focus on delivering the best care in four key areas of focus. It is about separating the roles of oversight and delivery of care to make sure Albertans are getting the care they need where and when they need it.
We recognize that health care workers on the ground and regional partners have a direct line of sight on what needs to change to improve quality of care in their community. One of our guiding principles for the system refocusing is to empower health care workers, listen to regional perspectives and support local decision-making.
We want to hear from the frontline experts. We are inviting health care workers to become involved in shaping how we refocus the health care system. We are adding a wide range of opportunities including in-person sessions to thoughtfully engage with health care workers and find ways to overcome the obstacles they face and enhance local decision-making.”
Instead, Shepherd says extraordinary risks to the UCP’s plan, such as fragmented care and service failure and disruptions, were not discussed or acknowledged.
He says the UCP has a bad track record of making uninformed and large changes in healthcare, referencing their 2019 decision to transition community lab services from public to privately funded, and then reversing that decision this summer due to long wait times.
He also brought up the E. Coli outbreak in multiple Calgary daycares this September, referencing an AHS report that showed a decline in food safety inspections since 2018, when the UCP returned into power.
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The UCP government also announced their new AHS board, with their Chair as Lyle Oberg, former cabinet minister under Progressive Conservative Premier Ralph Klein. Oberg stepped down in 2010 as president and CEO of Canada’s first private DNA testing clinic in Edmonton, noting his position as a medical doctor was a conflict with his role in the company.
Shepherd says this plays to Smith’s agenda for more privately funded healthcare services. Minister of Health and MLA for Red Deer-North Adriana LaGrange said on Wednesday the restructuring protects taxpayer-funded health care.
Taillon responded that, “Dr. Oberg has vast experience providing care as a physician of 12 years in rural Alberta in addition to his experience in governance and executive management.”
She added, “The Premier made a public health care guarantee to Albertans. That means no one will ever have to pay out of pocket for a visit to a doctor or for hospital services, and that is not changing. These reforms have nothing to do with privatization. They are also not about cuts. Alberta’s government will continue to grow the health care workforce and we anticipate that there will be no job losses to AHS staff working in frontline positions who are directly delivering patient care. In fact, our government knows that Alberta needs more health care workers, and so we’ll continue to recruit and train more of them.”