If Alberta politicians are going to revamp administration of health care in the province, Alberta physicians want a seat at the table when the changes are being discussed and designed.
That was the message Wednesday from Alberta Medical Association president Dr. Paul Parks, who expressed concern that a major provincial restructuring could leave those most in need of its services vulnerable.
“It is crucial to approach this restructuring responsibly and carefully to ensure these changes do not have adverse impacts on patient care or lead to longer wait times and poorer access for Albertans,” Parks wrote in a media release.
“As these new functional organizations are being established, our primary concern is continuity of care for the people of Alberta. We must make sure that patients can navigate this new system seamlessly, without disruptions.”
Parks said the way to preserve continuity in the health-care system was to include input from healthcare professionals every step of the way.
“I have told government that physician co-design is vital,” Parks said, “and the AMA has a role to play in guiding the path forward. Our health-care system is already in a fragile state. The consistent message I have been hearing from physicians across Alberta is that any changes made in our system must involve input from experts on the front lines – the physicians and allied health care workers who are dedicated to patient care.”
In an interview with CTV News, Parks expressed hope that the province would take a collaborative approach to restructuring.
“I’m optimistic we can work together with the minister because they’ve said this is just the frame work now they want to work directly with the AMA to get that expertise, to get that input to get that advice,” he said.
“The really important piece that we all need to know is how do they integrate together? How do we make sure that the patient’s journey through those different organizations, their transition of care their continuity of care, how is that all preserved?”
Those sentiments were echoed by Friends of Medicare in a separate interview, where executive director Chris Gallaway expressed concern that a UCP teardown of the administration of health care could lead to the systematic upheaval that most Albertans do not want.
“There’s nothing (in this provincial announcement) about building the hospitals that have been promised, like Red Deer or South Edmonton,” Gallaway said. “There’s nothing about retaining doctors or health care workers. There’s nothing about recruitment and training. That’s what’s needed across the province, not a massive administrative change that will create chaos, cost a bunch of money and hire more assistant deputy ministers and bureaucrats.”
“You’re just making the experience for Albertans worse and the opportunity for privatization stronger.”
As Exhibit A, Gallaway pointed to the UCP’s most-recent attempts to reform blood testing through a for-profit operator Dynalife, which backfired dramatically.
“Blow it up and sell pieces off, that seems to be the strategy underway with this morning’s announcement,” said Gallaway. “You think this government would have learned their lesson after their disastrous decision to split our lab system into two pieces and their subsequent failed privatization of the community labs to Dynalife, but here we go again.”
In southern Alberta, which has been hit hard by a physician shortage, Friends of Medicare Lethbridge chapter president Bev Muendel-Athersone also expressed concern that the restructuring would be the first step towards privatizing some parts of health care.
“Maybe not this moment, but they’re setting up a structure where it’s easy to privatize,” Muendel-Athersone said. “I see this as the beginning of clear privatization of all the aspects of health care.”
“This restructuring is like having the other shoe drop,” she added. “We knew that the premier really wants to privatize healthcare and she’s been going at it in various ways as have previous conservative governments.”
“The government — instead of going after the doctors could have supported doctors and health care workers in the province — so that people found Alberta a positive climate to work. But by chasing them away, [Danielle Smith] broke the system.”
For NDP Opposition leader Rachel Notley, the revamp is a smokescreen to hide the failure to recruit health-care workers to the province.
“There is a catastrophic shortage of health-care workers in Alberta,” Notley wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Instead of trying to get more doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health-care professionals to the bedside, this is simply a plan by the UCP for more direct control of those workers from the minister’s office.”
Notley’s sentiments were echoed by the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), which represents more than 30,000 registered nurses and psychiatric nurses.
“The wrong diagnosis always creates the wrong treatment,” said UNA president Heather Smith, in a release. “The government has diagnosed the problem in Alberta’s health-care system as being the structure of AHS. A far more serious problem is the shortage of nurses and other medical professionals, as well as beds and capacity. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater!”
“The treatment announced by the government today is going to make the problem worse,” she predicted. “It seems likely the chaos in the health-care system will be a roadblock to the retention and recruitment of nurses,” Smith said.
She asked: “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?”
That’s a concern Lorain Hardcastle believes will need to be addressed as soon as possible.
The University of Calgary law professor speculated the move is backed only by a desire for “centralization of government power,” rather than improved results.
“These changes are the opposite of the direction that most health systems around the world are going in,” Hardcastle told CTV News Wednesday. “So it isn’t clear where these ideas are coming from and where the evidence is in support of them.”
With files from Quinn Keenan