Premier Smith worries Alberta’s health system losing focus given diffuse roles, priorities | Canadian

Premier Danielle Smith says she’s concerned Alberta’s health-care delivery agency is being pulled in too many directions.

Smith says she has asked Health Minister Adriana LaGrange to revamp the structure of Alberta Health Services, better known as AHS, to make it more responsive to regional needs.

“Let’s get Alberta Health Services focused on doing what we all expect them to do, which is deliver the very best hospital care and then see if there’s other management structures that will work for some of those other areas,” Smith said Thursday.

“Alberta Health Services should be absolutely expert in providing acute care. That is their number 1 goal, the number 1 thing that they should be doing is providing excellent acute care across the 106 facilities that they operate.”

She said LaGrange will look at whether AHS still needs to be in charge of non-acute functions such as midwifery, primary care staffing and continuing care.

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Smith said she wants a more decentralized model with more decision-making authority at the regional and local levels.

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Alberta finished centralizing its health system 15 years ago to create AHS, but Smith said the contemplated changes would not turn back the clock to a completely decentralized model.

She said there is still a role to play for AHS and for centralized decision-making, given that some procedures can only be done in major centres, but she added that there needs to be balance.

“We’ve created a system where too many decisions are being made centrally and not enough decisions are being made at the local level or the regional level,” she said.

“So it’s a matter of moving managers into the right position (and) giving them the authority to make the right decisions on it.”

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As an example, Smith cited a hospital in her home constituency of Brooks-Medicine Hat that recently completed an expansion.

“(The expanded unit) has been sitting there for nine months without being put into service,” Smith said.

“That’s bad management. There’s no other way around it.

“If we had managers who were at that local facility making decisions for the community about what services should be provided in that community, I’m convinced they would find the people, they’d find the anesthesiologist, they’d find the patients, they’d find the staffing, and they’d make sure that they were making full use of that facility.”

AHS could not be immediately reached to confirm the status of the Brooks hospital expansion.

Opposition NDP critic Nathan Ip said he’s skeptical decentralizing the system will solve Alberta’s woes.

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“I frankly think it’s a problem of not investing in the front-line health-care workers that we need to,” Ip said.

“What I think this government is trying to do is, frankly, distract from their terrible record in health care the last few years.”

Alberta, like other jurisdictions, is trying to fill vacancies and attract more health-care workers, particularly physicians, to rural areas.

Earlier Thursday, in a speech to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, Smith reiterated ongoing programs to fill vacancies, such as fast-tracking accreditation for foreign health-care workers.

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