Alberta nixes panel recommendation to close five rural hospitals, trauma centre

CALGARY — Alberta’s health minister is rejecting recommendations from a health review panel to close down five regional hospitals and shutter one of Edmonton’s two adult trauma centres.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro says while he wants change in the system and has accepted many of the suggestions in the report, those two recommendations are off the table.

“There will be no hospital closures or consolidation of urban trauma centres,” Shandro told reporters Monday as he released a 220-page Ernst & Young report, which will serve as the blueprint for upcoming structural changes to Alberta Health Services.

Alberta is spending $20.6 billion on health this year, equivalent to more than 40 per cent of the operating budget.

Shandro said Alberta Health Services, the $15.4-billion delivery arm of the health system, will act on the other recommendations and provide an implementation plan by May 13.

The report “provides clear evidence for overdue reforms and opportunities where our system can do better in terms of patient services, in terms of outcome, in terms of value of money,” Shandro said.

The $2-million report was ordered by Shandro last summer to find efficiencies while not compromising care.

The report made 57 recommendations, including changes to work rules and pay for doctors and nurses, expanded use of private clinics, and further outsourcing of support services such as laundry, linen, food service and housekeeping.

It noted that Alberta has 16 urban hospitals handling well over three million people and 83 others in smaller regional areas caring for about 850,000 people.

It said of those 83 hospitals, 77 have emergency rooms that are underused — averaging three visits a night with a lot of very minor cases — and many of those could be consolidated or operate on reduced hours.

The report also said that close to half of the 83 hospitals could be reconfigured to get better value for money while making sure remote residents still get timely care.

“Underused hospitals lead to inefficient use of staff and facilities,” said the report, noting that under their criteria five unnamed facilities could be closed altogether.

The report also said for cities the size of Calgary and Edmonton one adult trauma centre and one pediatric trauma centre in each are enough.

However, Edmonton has two adult trauma centres, at the Royal Alexandra Hospital and the University of Alberta facility.

“Experience from other jurisdictions highlights that running two separate trauma sites in close proximity can lead to duplication (of high level, specialized) services,” said the report, which found many examples of both Edmonton facilities handling similar cases.

The report estimated a maximum of $1.9 billion in total savings per year. Shandro said that figure can vary depending on how recommendations are implemented, but any savings will be reinvested in the system.

Dr. Verna Yiu, head of AHS, said the organization accepts the report and has already started working on some of the suggestions.

Opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd lauded some of the recommendations for reform, saying they had been launched under the former NDP government, but cautioned against rash action when it comes to reforming rural health care and using more private clinics to handle routine surgeries.

“There is potential within these recommendations to seriously impact patient care,” Shepherd said.

The Alberta Federation of Labour, in a statement, said the report is political cover for Premier Jason Kenney’s “ideological” plan to outsource and privatize the publicly funded health system.

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