Premier Danielle Smith says her government will soon be following through on campaign promises to decentralize Alberta Health Services.
At the UCP annual general meeting on Saturday, Smith told the cheering crowd to stay tuned in the coming weeks for more on health reforms that will decentralize AHS decision-making and resources.
Smith said she’s gratified to know that the membership is behind her, and told reporters on Saturday that her government will be “disaggregating” AHS.
She said there have already been examples of this process in Alberta with mental health and addiction being a separate ministry.
“Alberta health services is going to continue operating our acute care facilities and we are going to ask them to do a better job at it. We’re going to ask them to make sure they are optimizing the use of each facility. That they’ve got the right patients in the right place receiving the right treatment,” Smith said.
She said frustration resulted because too many decisions were happening at a province-wide level. Smith said AHS will continue to deliver on its core responsibility of running hospitals.
“We’re not going back to the era of individual hospital boards that aren’t in an integrated network, but we are going back to more local control, more zonal control, and then keeping the things that work in the central health region — just keeping them at the central level,” Smith said.
Smith said her government will be working on decentralizing AHS over the next 18 months to two years.
Chaldeans Mensah associate professor of Political Science at MacEwan University said the process will be a tricky task.
“This is a complicated process and the danger here if it’s not done properly, it will cause a great deal of disillusionment for the people in the system — the doctors and the nurses. So it has to be done carefully to make sure outcomes are achieved and it’s not just a political instrument, but really targeted to ensuring good delivery of health care all across Alberta,” Mensah said.
“The grass roots of the party is calling for more focus and better outcomes for rural folks. They feel that the centralized model is not meeting their needs. There’s a political agitation here and the government is responding to that, but the reality is any changes have to deliver better outcomes to Albertans in all these areas, otherwise it just becomes a political tool that changes from government to government,” Mensah said.
The president of the Alberta Medical Association says there is support among doctors for more local decision-making but on the flip side, there are a lot of strengths in AHS.
“The system is very fragile right now. With a complex system like the health care system everybody is worried that depending on what changes occur, they can impact care,” said Dr. Paul Parks on Sunday.
“I think there are some strengths with Alberta Health Services so we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s keep the parts that are working and parts where I see the premier mentioned, around more local decision-making and some more local input, I think a lot of physicians would welcome,” Parks said.
Parks said he has a good relationship with Alberta’s minister of health now but it’s difficult to comment on specifics without knowing the full plan.
He will be meeting with Alberta’s health minister on Monday when he hopes to get more details.
He said one of the consistent messages he is hearing across the province is that the only way forward is to have the front line experts have input into any changes being made.
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