December 3, 2023


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Alberta Medical Association hopeful AHS overhaul is an improvement

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Two major organizations representing health care workers in Alberta said neither of them were consulted prior to the announcement of the Alberta Health Services overhaul, but the Alberta Medical Association said it is optimistic given Premier Danielle Smith’s commitment to collaboration.

AMA president Dr. Paul Parks said Premier Danielle Smith and Health Minister Adriana LaGrange — in a briefing — committed to working with the AMA and physician experts to create a structure that will be operational and integrate the four new organizations.

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“What I‘ve been very clear about and hearing from all my colleagues across the province is the last thing we need are more silos and organizations that are working independently from each other — what we really need is better integration,” Parks said. 

“The part that I’m very anxious and interested to work with the minister is if this structure can allow us to make the system work better through the entire journey — the patient’s journey through their health care, that’s the piece we need.” 

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Parks stressed the importance of physician input going forward in the next year as changes are implemented.

While his optimism for a system to bridge gaps remains strong, he is concerned about the potential for cases to slip through the cracks due to potential fragmentation that can occur with several organizations working together and handling different portfolios.

He said a second issue that must be addressed in the health care field is retaining medical professionals.

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United Nurses of Alberta president Heather Smith echoed Parks’ concern about retaining medical professionals. However, she said the announcement will not help address nursing shortages nor does she see any benefit to the new restructuring.

“My message to LaGrange when I spoke to her specifically — this is some time ago now — was we need desperately to retain the workforce. We need desperately to recruit. Please don’t destabilize Alberta Health Services because that is not going to help us in either of those ventures,” said Smith.  

Smith said the new restructuring will only make the problem worse, pointing to current issues such as the lack of capacity, not enough beds or insignificant investment in infrastructure.

“We’ve had increasing population, we don’t have enough people or even beds. We can’t necessarily keep open our emergency departments because we don’t have capacity (in terms of staff).”

A news release from the United Nurses of Alberta said that while they acknowledge the current deficits within Alberta Health Services, the provincial government’s announcement to break up AHS and bring in new organizations fails to give a clear idea of how the new organizations will work together.

“The wrong diagnosis always creates the wrong treatment,” Smith said in the news 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!” 

UNA represents more than 30,000 registered nurses in Alberta, the majority of whom are employed by AHS.

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