Health-care deficit reduced

Alberta’s projected $1.7-billion health-care deficit has been shaved — but exactly how much won’t be known until June.

Alberta’s projected $1.7-billion health-care deficit has been shaved — but exactly how much won’t be known until June.

On Wednesday, Alberta Health Services Board chairman Ken Hughes only would say it will be “considerably less.”

And that the provincial health board will be strict about health-care providers staying on budget in the future.

“You set the budget — you stick to it,” said Hughes after the health board’s meeting in Red Deer.

The promise comes one week before Alberta Health Services officially takes control of the province’s health care system on April 1.

Last May, the province dismissed all the members of the regional health boards to create the Alberta Health Services Board.

The board will be responsible for health service delivery for the entire province, along with replacing the Alberta Mental Health Board, Alberta Cancer Board and Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission.

The move to a single, provincial board was made to streamline the health system for patients and health care workers.

It’s intended to strengthen a provincial approach to managing health services including surgical access, long-term care, chronic disease management, addictions and mental health.

During the first three months of 2009, Alberta’s health-care costs came in at $2.7 billion, and on Wednesday the board approved projected expenses of $2.7 billion for the next three months.

Cuts to spending will depend on the April 7 provincial budget and what efficiencies can be created within the system through better management and savings from the amalgamation of the 12 regions, Hughes said.

The board is prepared for the enormous task, he said.

“It’s one of the most complex mergers, if not the most complex, in Canadian history.

“Twelve large entities with nearly $10 billion in expenditures.”

The scope of the integration means big opportunities to improve and the board intends to make Alberta the “gold standard” among public health-care systems, Hughes said.

Dr. Stephen Duckett, the new president and chief executive officer of Alberta Health Services, said the board will be focusing on health-care access, quality and sustainability.

Until now, health-care service in the different regions couldn’t be compared, he said.

“They didn’t know whether they were the best in Alberta or the worst in Alberta,” said Duckett on his third day on the job.

“What we’re now able to do is take a provincial approach to actually look at Alberta as a whole and compare the performance of Calgary versus Edmonton, of Lethbridge versus Red Deer and so on.”

During the public portion of the board meeting, Hughes acknowledged the anxiety and uncertainty Albertans have felt over the last 10 months.

“Not all questions about the future are going to be answered the moment Alberta Health Services hits the ground on the first of April. But it’s my hope that things will become much clearer quite quickly over the next few months.”

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