Tough medicine: Alberta freezes health salaries, implements other austerities

EDMONTON — Alberta Health Services is freezing salaries and holding the line on union raises to help the province cope with billions of dollars in lost revenue due to low oil prices. But AHS president Vickie Kaminski said Thursday the changes will be made judiciously to avoid affecting front-line care.

EDMONTON — Alberta Health Services is freezing salaries and holding the line on union raises to help the province cope with billions of dollars in lost revenue due to low oil prices.

But AHS president Vickie Kaminski said Thursday the changes will be made judiciously to avoid affecting front-line care.

“We’re going to have to make some difficult decisions in the coming months,” Kaminski told a news conference.

“But I would like to assure Albertans that every option will be explored to minimize the impact on the delivery of health-care services in this province.”

Kaminski was responding to a government directive sent to AHS in late December to implement cost restraints.

Premier Jim Prentice has said fundamental changes will need to be made across the board to deal with $7 billion in lost revenue due to low oil prices.

Prentice has said he is looking at changes to personal income tax and capital projects. But he has ruled out a provincial sales tax and said corporate taxes and oil royalties won’t be touched.

Kaminski said AHS managers are under a salary freeze for the next fiscal year and unionized members will be offered zero per cent salary increases.

She said new rules will be put in place to reduce procurement and travel costs.

There will also be renewed vigilance and support to reduce staff sick days, which cost an estimated $190 million a year, Kaminski said.

Other new rules are being put in place to reduce cellphone charges. Kaminski said that cellphone bills in the last 18 months alone cost $825,000.

“We cannot tolerate Alberta Health Services using taxpayers’ dollars to pay for monthly roaming charges in the thousands of dollars, as we have just determined to be the case.”

Kaminski also said she is disturbed by the high cost of severance payments — $28 million since 2011 — handed out to 660 employees.

About $4.4 million of that severance went to 12 executive members, she said.

“In recent years … I think (the severance payment issue) has cast a dark shadow over Alberta Health Services,” she said.

“I have directed that rigorous performance management is to be undertaken to avoid the need for payment of severance.”

Alberta Health Services is responsible for front-line care and spends one-third of Alberta’s $44-billion operating budget.

Also Thursday, Finance Minister Robin Campbell launched an online survey to give Albertans a chance to weigh in on how to change the province’s economic model.

Campbell said the plan is to continue building roads, schools and hospitals despite the economic downturn.

“We’re going to have a very aggressive infrastructure plan,” he said.

The new budget, to be released next month, will have a $29-billion capital plan spread over five years. Some of that money will be borrowed, he said.

Department spending is also being scrutinized.

“There are some programs that are nice to have. Some of those programs might not be there,” said Campbell.

“But as far as the core services and making sure that Albertans receive those services, we’ll continue to provide them.”

Just Posted

Some central Alberta businesses pledge to pay youth $15 ahead of wage cut that kicks in Wednesday

Jo(e) Social Media Inc. and Kavaccino’s pledge to pay youth more than $13 an hour

Astronaut David Saint-Jacques returns to Earth, sets Canadian space record

LONGUEUIL, Que. — David Saint-Jacques returned to Earth on Monday after more… Continue reading

Red Deer property taxes are due Friday

City warns late fees will be applied after June 28

Cambodia charges 7, including Chinese, in building collapse

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia — A court in Cambodia said Tuesday that seven people,… Continue reading

WATCH: Hundreds run in the 5K Foam Fest in Red Deer

The annual event took place at Heritage Ranch on Saturday

Skinny Vancouver Whitecaps eager to pick up points on four-game road swing

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps know there’s work to be done as… Continue reading

World Cup exit shows Canada will miss the remarkable Christine Sinclair

PARIS — Christine Sinclair has put Canadian soccer on her shoulders for… Continue reading

Police release more than 1,000 files from Smollett probe

Chicago police on Monday released more than 1,000 files from the investigation… Continue reading

Tributes to Michael Jackson flow on 10th death anniversary

LOS ANGELES — Michael Jackson’s estate paid tribute to his artistry and… Continue reading

Alberta government, Opposition swap accusations, attacks in earplug debate

EDMONTON — Alberta’s earplug debate got louder Monday as the Opposition NDP… Continue reading

‘Clients fall off:’ Calgary program helps recently released prisoners with hep C

CALGARY — Imagine adjusting to life after serving prison time, then add… Continue reading

Opera star Measha Brueggergosman recovering from double bypass surgery

CALGARY — Canadian opera star Measha Brueggergosman is recovering from heart surgery,… Continue reading

Who you gonna call? Alberta rattlesnake wrangler keeps serpents, citizens safe

LETHBRIDGE — One rattlesnake got caught in freshly laid tar under someone’s… Continue reading

Most Read