Some Albertans are worried that the province’s plans to restructure Alberta Health Services may lead to further privatization of the health-care system.
On Wednesday, Premier Danielle Smith announced sweeping changes to dismantle AHS, reducing it to one of four new service delivery organizations, all reporting directly to Health Minister Adriana LaGrange.
She said some improvements have been made in finding family doctors and reducing wait times for care and surgeries, but that it’s not enough and her government needs the legislative tools to make changes.
“This isn’t change for the sake of change,” Smith said Wednesday at a news conference at the legislature.
“The current Alberta health-care system is one that is forgotten who should be at the centre of its existence — patients and the health-care experts who look after them.”
The transformation is to take up to two years, and while Smith says front-line health jobs will be protected, “you’re going to see a process of streamlining in the management layers.”
In an emailed statement, Alberta labour critic Peggy Wright said the United Conservative government’s plans to restructure AHS will have bad consequences for Albertans.
“The radical disruption we saw described this morning is not an attempt to make Albertans healthier or to give these Alberta workers a better place to work,” the statement read.
“It’s a power grab, plain and simple, and the results for patients and for health-care workers will be more UCP chaos.”
Health critic David Shepherd said the health-care system needs to be reformed but it needs to be done right.
“We believe health care does need reform, through investment in the front lines and a massive recruitment and retention campaign,” he said.
“What Danielle Smith described this morning will make health care slower and harder to find and more fragmented. It means inferior health care for Albertans and that’s unacceptable.”
AHS was created 15 years ago, amalgamating disparate health regions into one superboard tasked with centralizing decision-making, patient care and procurement.
Calgary resident Dwight Gilliland has been looking for a supported living facility in Calgary for his wife Marjorie Gilliland for months. Marjorie, who has dementia, requires 24-7 care for almost everything she does.
The couple initially went to Saint Theresa General Hospital in Airdrie, but Dwight wants his wife to be closer to him in Calgary. However, Dwight said it’ll be a six- to eight-month wait to get a space in a supported living facility for his wife.
“When we first started at Saint Theresa in July 2021, things weren’t too bad. Things were fairly open and you could just pick the facility you wanted to go to within reason. Now it’s all jammed up so badly,” Dwight told Global News.
“I wanted to get (Marjorie) back to Calgary and now I’m waiting for six to eight months…. If you change your mind or you want to go to a different place, you’re just going to go back on a waiting list for quite some time before you can actually move.”
Dwight says he is paying around $2,500 a month for Marjorie’s spot in Saint Theresa General Hospital. Most private care homes can start at around $4,000 a month, he said.
“If they privatize, most people will not be able to afford care. We’re paying $2,500 a month right now and Alberta Health Services was very good at finding us a place,” he said.
“When you go to private care, you’re going to have to do a lot of research. Once Alberta Health Services does an assessment, they find a place based on your needs. For private care, you have to do a lot of that on your own.
“I think Alberta Health Services is really important for transitioning, getting in from your house to your facility. They do a lot of legwork for you and you’ll be doing that yourself if privatization takes over. I dread that thought.”
Jonathan Schwabe and Melody Schwabe currently live in a basement suite and AHS has been providing Melody in-home care after an orthopedic surgery in early September.
While the surgeon and health-care staff Melody had were “phenomenal,” Jonathan said there was a lot of waiting involved because the public health-care system was so overwhelmed.
According to Jonathan, Melody had to wait 30 minutes before an ambulance arrived at her home after she fell from her chair. It was an additional 20-minute wait for firefighters to come assist with lifting her up the stairs.
“The staff have been great. The nurses were phenomenal when they come here. They seemed rushed, not because they don’t want to provide the best care for my wife, but they have upwards of 300 more patients just on the south side alone to tend to,” Jonathan told Global News.
“The fact that the government looks at this and said they’ll control it all, it just seems like a profit thing, like there’s no room for people anymore. It’s literally who can put the most money in their pockets by privatizing things.
“Government officials aren’t doctors. They’re not on the front lines. They’re not changing my wife’s dressings. They are sitting in their cozy office making a paycheque that’s significantly higher than the average Alberta working wage.”
Governments need to work with health-care professionals: experts
Many health-care professionals agree that there needs to be better co-ordination between the system and the community, but the government needs to work with health-care professionals to make that happen.
Dr. Paul Parks, president of the Alberta Medical Association, said there is an immediate need to stabilize the health-care system but care needs to be better integrated and delivered to the community.
“If this framework that’s announced is the goal to achieve that, then we have to ensure that those organizations aren’t siloed. The point of it is how do we integrate those organizations together,” Parks told Global News.
“Physicians will work in all of those organizations, so you need to make sure you have local expert input on how this is going to operate in a bigger or smaller community, or even in rural Alberta.”
Parks added he is concerned that the new framework will disrupt the province’s public health-care system because it is very “fragile.”
“It’s difficult to deliver safe and timely care to all Albertans like we normally could right now,” he said.
“If this is not done with the expert input of physicians, this could cause more fragmentation.
“I would hope that down the road the restructure gets done right and may help with some of the problems we’re facing right now.”
Laura Tamblyn Watts, chief executive of seniors advocacy organization Canage, said the government needs to make sure there are enough spaces for older people to live in a home-like environment while restructuring AHS.
Many older Albertans are facing problems finding long-term care homes to live in, she said.
“If you look at the studies, there are real concerns that private care homes and long-term community care homes run by private or for-profit organizations had overwhelmingly poorer outcomes,” Watts said. “That’s not true in every case, but if you measure it, for-profit care homes did worse on average than the not-for-profit or municipal care homes.”
— with files from Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press
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