The provincial government's plans to restructure Alberta Health Services (AHS) have become a lot clearer after Premier Danielle Smith announced a comprehensive health care overhaul earlier this month, but not everyone is in agreement over whether the restructure will do anything to fix the healthcare system.
Smith and Health Minister Adriana LaGrange unveiled four new care organizations that will be created to help with health care delivery in the province. Acute care, primary care, continuing care, and mental health and addiction will be in place by fall 2024, all of which were previously the responsibility of Alberta Health Services (AHS).
“By creating specialized organizations within one provincial system, we will enable each organization to look after one area of health care only and avoid the scattered and uncoordinated approach of the more rigid centralized structure that exists now,” said Smith at a press conference announcing the restructure on Nov. 8.
Airdrie Mayor Peter Brown believes that the AHS restructure is a good first step when it comes to fixing the healthcare crisis that has hit many in Airdrie hard.
“Obviously lots of work needs to be done behind the scenes to figure out how that’s all going to come together,” said Brown. “I’m happy that these changes have been implemented and I’m looking forward to seeing how that’s going to impact all of us.”
However, while Brown expressed optimism towards the government's restructure plans, professionals in the healthcare industry share a slightly different view.
The United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), which represents more than 30,000 registered nurses, the majority employed by AHS, released a statement soon after the restructure announcement that was scathingly critical of the government’s plans.
“UNA sees nothing in the breakup of AHS and the restructuring of the administration of public health care…that will address the principal crisis that concerns most nurses– chronic understaffing and overwork caused by the shortage of nurses,” read the statement.
Heather Smith, the UNA president, added that, “while UNA has long acknowledged genuine deficiencies in the management of health care services, there is nothing [in the] announcement that will solve that problem.”
Smith believes that the provincial government is misdiagnosing the problem with Alberta’s health care.
“The wrong diagnosis always creates the wrong treatment…the government has diagnosed the problem as being the structure of AHS. A far more serious problem is the shortage of nurses and other medical professionals.”
It's unclear how the government plans to deal with the aforementioned shortage of medical professionals and the lack of access to medical services in communities like Airdrie. Airdrie is one of the largest population centres in the province which is currently without its own hospital. Airdrie is also one of the only jurisdictions in the province to have had a reduced number of doctors overall this year. And a third concern is that AHS has had a problematic record in ambulance response times within Airdrie over the past few years.
“My feeling is that this will be a positive step,” said Brown, who acknowledged some uncertainty about how the restructure will affect these gaps in acute care in Airdrie. Brown said he’s not sure how this will help expedite the construction of a larger urgent care centre, or even a hospital.
“I don’t see that happening anytime soon based on what we know to date.”
For now, Brown believes that the restructure will have a positive impact on the delivery of health care because at least it will put the process back in the hands of the local healthcare professionals.
“I’m very hopeful there will be a positive impact on those on that side of the business for sure,” he said.
As for those “on that side of the business”, UNA President Heather Smith stated the UNA’s frustrations with the restructure plan pretty directly.
“The [announcement] by the government…is going to make the problem worse,” said Smith. “Who is going to move to Alberta to work in health care when they don’t even know what agency or organization they will be working for?”