AHS board axed after bonus payouts

Alberta Health Services may have been publicly humiliated, but health care advocates say it will take more to improve Alberta’s health care system.

Alberta Health Services may have been publicly humiliated, but health care advocates say it will take more to improve Alberta’s health care system.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Fred Horne fired the Alberta Health Services Board after the board insisted on paying out bonuses to AHS executives, defying Horne’s request.

None of the 10 AHS board members were from Central Alberta.

Horne said the Progressive Conservatives were elected to ensure government, its agencies and boards live within their means.

“At a time when we’ve asked our front-line providers, including doctors, teachers, and support workers to take freezes in pay, the unwillingness of the AHS Board to reconsider its decision on pay-at-risk is completely out-of-step with the government’s priorities — and more importantly, the priorities of Albertans,” Horne said in a statement released following his press conference in Lethbridge on Wednesday.

Pay-at-risk allows the withholding of pay subject to the completion of objectives and meeting performance measures.

Brenda Corney, chair of Friends of Medicare Red Deer chapter, said the province likes being able to blame someone else for Alberta’s health care woes.

“It’s like when they closed Red Deer Nursing Home and Valley Park Manor (in Red Deer). It wasn’t the government that did that. It was Alberta Health Services that did that. So it’s a good way to deflect responsibility,” Corney said on Wednesday.

“I really think the government has to have more involvement and more accountability in what’s happening at AHS.”

She couldn’t understand how bonuses could be paid when services are not available, when people are in hospital waiting for long-term care beds.

The overcapacity protocol to free up beds in emergency departments by moving patients into hallways in other parts of hospitals does not solve the problem, she said.

“That doesn’t necessarily make the health care better. It just makes the statistics better.”

Doug Janssen, vice-president of the Central Alberta Council on Aging, said paying out AHS executive bonuses is an “absolute travesty.”

“It’s just unconscionable in every possible way,” Janssen said.

“Accountability, transparency, Alberta Health Services — they just don’t go together.”

AHS Board was refusing to cancel $3.2 million in bonus payouts to 99 executives. Horne said some executives wanted to forgo their bonuses, but the board wouldn’t allow it.

The number of executives scheduled for bonuses in Alberta Health Services Central Zone was not available.

The province says it will be reviewing AHS to ensure Albertans can have trust and confidence in its decisions and wants the public and AHS staff to provide input.

“Central Alberta Council on Aging would welcome opportunity to provide input on a more responsive and accountable Alberta Health Services,” Janssen said.

Bruce Buruma, chair of David Thompson Health Advisory Council with AHS, said he was taken aback by the firing of the AHS board.

“I think as members of health advisory councils we had a tremendous amount of confidence and respect in the Alberta Health Services Board. These were individuals who were talented. These were individuals who were knowledgeable and I think they were doing an incredible job. Their interaction on a regular basis with health advisory councils provided a high level of confidence. We were confident in the board,” Buruma said.

David Thompson is one of 12 councils representing different regions of the province that advise the board and give public the opportunity to provide feedback on the health care system.

“Ultimately at the end of the day, you have to have the confidence of government and clearly they didn’t have that confidence. I think that’s an unfortunate thing.”

Buruma said he understands the political realities the government faces in difficult economic times, but its decision does create uncertainty in the path health care will take now.

“There is absolute need for reform and improvements. We need to work smarter rather than harder. I think we saw lots of examples of where that was happening.”

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com