Alberta cutting vacant health care jobs, 550 staff taking buyouts

EDMONTON — The man at the helm of Alberta’s health superboard is promising to not close rural hospitals, but warned more changes are coming to health care.

EDMONTON — The man at the helm of Alberta’s health superboard is promising to not close rural hospitals, but warned more changes are coming to health care.

Stephen Duckett, CEO of Alberta Health Services, spoke to rural leaders Tuesday, saying upcoming changes will improve health care.

“Outmoded, ineffective or inefficient practices are not going to continue because that’s the way it’s always been,” Duckett told those at the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties.

“The old assumptions and models of service delivery are not sustainable.”

The superboard, which formed when a dozen health agencies were merged in April, employs roughly 90,000 people.

Hours after Duckett spoke, the Alberta government agency said in a news release that it is facing a $1.3 billion deficit for the year.

The agency says it will try to reduce that deficit by not filling 660 vacant positions and getting another 550 to take voluntary buyouts.

About 200 security jobs will also be contracted out to save money.

“There was needless duplication and frankly, waste … we don’t need 12 payroll departments, we need one, and so on,” Duckett said.

Even though the changes are big, Duckett insisted health care has not been adversely impacted.

“What we’ve done has been very tight, looking at vacancies, and we’re able to run the system right now without those staff,” Duckett said.

Gawney Hinkley, deputy reeve for Ponoka County, disagreed. He stood up at the meeting and told Duckett and Ken Hughes, chairman of Alberta Health Services Board, that “you are not telling us the truth.”

Hinkley said one wing of his hospital has been closed for the last year, and when they need a bed, they have to rush patients to Red Deer Hospital, “which is crowded, too.

“It’s just a bad situation all over.”

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees says “a significant portion” of the board’s security services will be contracted out and more than 100 security positions at hospitals will be eliminated.

“We do not believe this decision will save money for Alberta Health Services,” said union president Guy Smith.

“In fact, we believe costs are likely to climb as a result of contracting out this service.”

Smith said the changes will reduce the level of security at Alberta health facilities for patients, family members and staff.

He called on Duckett to reveal the business plan used to justify contracting out security services.

“Mr. Duckett is on record as stating he is not in favour of contracting out for the sake of contracting out, but will only engage in this practice if there is a sound business justification,” Smith said. “He has also said repeatedly he is committed to transparency in the operations of Alberta Health Services.

“For these reasons, I expect him to provide AUPE and the public with the business case for this decision in a timely fashion,” he said.

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