Premier Danielle Smith and the province’s Minister of Health, Jason Copping, announced Thursday afternoon that the current part-time Alberta Health Services (AHS) Board of Directors, which consists of 11 people, will be replaced by a full-time appointed official administrator, Dr. John Cowell. . Dr Cowell will report directly to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health.
According to Dr. Copping and Premier Smith, this decision is intended to accelerate changes in the health care system.
During the press conference, Minister Copping, Premier Smith and Dr. Cowell all spoke in turn about the province’s most pressing health system needs, including improving service response times emergency medical care, reducing emergency room waits and reducing wait times for surgeries.
“I am ready to get to work on behalf of Albertans, to build a better system to support patients in need of care. I look forward to working with the team at AHS and taking concrete action to bring about much-needed change,” said Dr. Cowell.
The province outlined several key initiatives that it hopes to tackle in the weeks and months ahead. In terms of reducing ambulance response times, Dr. Cowell will be responsible for expediting ambulance transfers to ERs so that paramedics are available for more calls, as well as using more modes of transportation. appropriate for non-emergency inter-facility transfers.
Part of the plan presented by the province will also focus on empowering frontline workers. This means that EMS dispatch should be able to reduce 911 calls to the Health Link based on patient need and allow paramedics to determine whether or not a patient should be transferred to the emergency room by ambulance.
Progress on EMS response times will be measured using four key metrics, including time from a 9-1-1 call to ambulance arrival, ER patient offload times , the number of less urgent calls handled by an ambulance, as well as while the number of calls went from 911 to Health Link.
Tracy Sopkow, CEO of Rural Health Professions Actions Plan, said her organization is committed to working with government and all of its partners to continue to improve Alberta’s health care system, especially for people living in the rural and remote areas of Alberta.
“All Albertans will benefit from strengthened EMS services, shorter waits in our emergency departments, and efforts to maximize the current surgical capacity of our system, especially in rural Alberta. We look forward to partnering with government and AHS to advance the outcomes of our system for the benefit of all Albertans.
Tackling the issue of emergency room wait times will also mean that Dr Cowell will seek to bring in other healthcare professionals to improve on-site patient care and management and transfer a number increased number of patients from hospital beds to more appropriate care facilities such as home care, long-term and continuing care facilities. The success benchmarks for this reform will mean that the government will track how long it takes from when a patient walks into an emergency room to when they receive the appropriate level of care they need.
And although Premier Smith said the backlog of surgeries is almost back to pre-pandemic levels, she says it’s not enough for Albertans. According to the province, approximately 68,400 Albertans are currently waiting for surgery. That number is down from the 81,000 Albertans who were waiting at the height of the pandemic. However, according to the province, before COVID-19 the list was 68,000.
Dr Cowell said he will look at the rate of operating room utilization in AHS hospitals as well as the proportion of surgeries occurring within clinically acceptable wait times and wait times for surgeries to to assess whether reducing wait times for surgery is effective.
In addition to the immediate tasks he will oversee, Dr. Cowell will also work with frontline workers to develop a longer-term strategy for health reform in the province. The province hopes he will be able to work on initiatives such as restoring decision-making to the local level and to local health professionals and attracting more health professionals to the province. Alberta.
“Long-term reforms will mean results are not immediately available. However, progress and success in crafting long-term reforms will be tracked by health service wait times and health worker-to-population ratios,” the province said.
However, according to Mike Parker, the president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), while he expressed hope for the province’s announcement, the HSAA also pointed out that it continues to have concerns, claiming that this announcement causes organizational chaos and continues a failed privatization. diets.
“Remember that a few months ago this government was trying to impose double-digit pay cuts on our members,” he said. “They are currently transferring thousands of laboratory professionals to a private employer, putting their pensions at risk. They are hurting right now by ignoring science and casting doubt on the effectiveness of masks and vaccines. »
According to an HSAA press release, Parker met with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health this morning before the afternoon announcement.
“It was encouraging to hear the Prime Minister and the Minister declare their intention to address the issues we have been raising for three and a half years,” Parker said. “Premier Smith echoed our position that Alberta needs to do more to retain the people we have and to increase the number of health care professionals we train and recruit.”
NDP Leader Rachel Notley blasted the government’s announcement saying it was doing nothing to respond to specific calls from frontline paramedics to reduce wait times.
“This new wave of chaos that Danielle Smith is inflicting on health care is going to make the situation worse. Healthcare workers deserve leadership that will listen and support them. »
Notley added that the dismissal of the AHS board is political theater.
“As Danielle Smith herself said when the Redford government did the exact same thing: it’s window dressing,” she said.
Notley countered Smith’s plan, saying that under an NDP government there would be the launch of what she described as the largest health care recruitment drive in the province’s history.
“An Alberta NDP government will get to the heart of the matter. We will bring real resources to the front lines and reverse the years of UCP cuts. We will work collaboratively and respectfully with healthcare professionals. We will end the chaos and bring stability to our hospitals, ambulances and primary care.”
The reshuffle of the province’s health care portfolio began earlier this week when Danielle Smith replaced Dr. Deena Hinshaw as the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health with AHS Vice President Dr. Mark Joe.