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Hackett: AHS changes miss the mark at ground level

Alberta Health Services is no more and we will be better for it.

Alberta Health Services is no more and we will be better for it.

Or so I’ve been told.

I’m skeptical of this change, with the dismantling of AHS and what it will mean for patient care and for those on the ground who make the system function. I think a change like this takes time to iron out the kinks about who reports to who, and who has responsibility for what and all that gets downloaded onto frontline workers and those who need care.

There’s no doubt something needs to change but I’m really not convinced that adding extra layers of bureaucracy will be the change the government hopes it will be.

In the Central zone, all we really want to know in Red Deer is what is happening with the hospital and how that decision impacts progress in that domain. Everything else is just noise at this point.

And according to Alberta Health, it seems crystal clear.

“Alberta’s government remains committed to improving hospital care in Red Deer and surrounding communities,” they said.

Not so to others involved in advocacy for getting the hospital built, it seems.

“Nobody knows what’s going on. We’re not given a timeline. How hard would it be to just give a simple timeline? We’re just in the dark,” said Harley Hay of Society for Hospital Expansion in Central Alberta.

And if you look at this most recent restructuring and think, this will definitely be the solution that leads to a clearer picture about the Red Deer Regional Hospital, I’d like to have some of whatever Kool-aid you’re drinking.

Any type of organizational restructuring is chaotic and especially at this scale, everything must be at a standstill while people get their barrings in new positions and roles.

Which to me, means delays.

On top of that, bringing new people up to speed on files if files like the hospital do indeed change hands, more delay. In theory, because the project is in the hands of Alberta Infrastructure, these changes shouldn’t impact the project.

That’s the optimism in me. But whenever somebody new takes over a job or a role, they want to put their stamp on an organization. The government wouldn’t be blowing up AHS otherwise.

So that person or people will inevitably look at hospital projects across the province and see if there are any inefficiencies to clean up.

All this doesn’t even account for the chaos on the ground at our health authority, which reverberates throughout the health care system.

Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers say they weren’t consulted about these most recent changes. Of course, with a change, everybody is optimistic that it will have the desired result, which the government seemed to acknowledge was delays in service. People aren’t getting the care they need, in the time it is expected to be delivered.

With a proper diagnosis to the problem, you would hope the solution that follows would be a simple one. The government needs to allocate more resources to health services in the provinces, including hiring more doctors and nurses and having less red tape involved in whatever process is needed to get them to the front line.

Karen Kuprys is a Registered Nurse with more than 30 years of experience. She had a simple take on the change.

“We do not need this type of reorganization of the system. We have done this multiple times. It creates uncertainty and instability. A renewed attempt will not solve the core issues facing the health-care system,” she said.

“Collectively health-care workers have worked through the worst periods of the pandemic. We faced health-care working conditions unlike anything else we have ever experienced. That has left many health-care workers exhausted and disillusioned.

And from an outside perspective, it seems to me that this restructuring just puts more people in the middle who need to make a decision and doesn’t increase any sort of support on the ground, where the help is needed most. At least that wasn’t immediately committed to by the government in their announcement yesterday.

I also think it’s important to remember that this is the government that completely bungled its first attempt to help the health care system. In 2022, the Alberta government entered into a 25-year agreement with DynaLife to provide expanded lab services across the province. They expected the deal to save taxpayers between $18 and $36 million. Instead, complaints of wait times and service bottlenecks caused the province to cancel the contract. To that end, the province spent three years trying to privatize community lab services, only to see it collapse and be forced to cancel the deal.

Any discussion of healthcare in this province also wouldn’t be complete without parsing the issue of privatized care. The premier was emphatic that no Albertan will ever have to pay to visit a hospital.

I hope she keeps her word, but there are doubts.

Like the man she put in charge of this restructuring, Lyle Oberg. He helped open a private, for-profit hospital in Vietnam nearly a decade ago.

Oberg is a physician, who had previously served as Minister of Learning for the Progressive Conservatives, as well as Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation. He was also Minister of Finance in 2006.

Oberg joined Smith’s Wildrose Party in 2011 and was the CEO of Canada’s first private DNA testing clinic.

One would hope that all his previous experience with government would help cut through the bureaucracy that is plaguing our hospitals. One would hope that his experience as a physician would lead him to understand the crisis our healthcare system is facing and the proper course of action to fix it.

That’s a lot of hope, without a lot of reassurances.

For now, we wait and see how these changes help the front lines. I hope the good people in our hospitals and in our care facilities are taken care of and get the support they need to help keep us all healthy. I wish it was as small an ask as a line in a column, but we all know its much bigger than that.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate and a Regional Editor for Black Press Media.

Byron Hackett

About the Author: Byron Hackett

Byron has been the sports reporter at the advocate since December of 2016. He likes to spend his time in cold hockey arenas accompanied by luke warm, watered down coffee.
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