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Rapid Recap: Alberta Health Services Restructure

November 8, 2023- The Alberta government announced today a major restructuring of the province’s health care system, which will see the responsibilities of Alberta Health Services (AHS) spread among four organizations. The government will introduce legislation in the spring to implement these changes, with a transition that is anticipated to take 18 to 24 months at an expected cost of $85 million.

The restructuring plan focuses on:

  1. Decentralizing AHS;

  2. The creation of four new service delivery organizations;

  3. The restructure of the regional advisory councils; and

  4. The appointment of a new board to oversee the transition.

Decentralizing AHS

Under the new structure, AHS would shift its primary focus from being the sole health care provider to focusing exclusively on acute care and continuing care. AHS will share the responsibility of acute care with the new acute care provincial organization. Other AHS delivery functions will move to be accountable to the new organizations.

Creation of New Service Delivery Organizations

The government has created four organizations to support service delivery:

  1. Acute Care: Oversee the delivery of hospital care, urgent care centres, cancer care, clinical operations, surgeries and emergency medical services.

  2. Primary Care: Coordinate primary health care services and provide transparent provincial oversight.

  3. Continuing Care: Provide the health, personal care and accommodation services to support independence and quality of life, including rehabilitative or restorative care.

  4. Mental Health and Addiction: Responsible for the delivery of public mental health and addiction services.

Restructure of Regional Advisory Councils

The Ministry of Health will restructure the 12 regional advisory councils that currently provide a grassroots perspective and an understanding of their communities’ health needs. Council members are volunteers and reside within their council’s geographic area and are recruited annually across the province.

The Ministry of Health will also create a new Indigenous advisory council to represent community perspectives, bring forward local priorities and give input on how to improve the system. The Ministry of Health will also realign its structure to better match with the new organizations, support the refocusing of the health care system and provide appropriate oversight. This includes ensuring each organization has its own reporting structure within the ministry.

Appointment of new AHS Board

A new seven-member board will support the transition of AHS into the reorganized provincial system. The new board includes Dr. Lyle Oberg, a former Minister of Finance and physician by profession; Andre Tremblay, Deputy Minister of Health; Evan Romanow, Deputy Minister of Mental Health and Addiction; Cynthia Farmer, Deputy Minister of Senior, Community and Social Services; Sandy Edmonstone; Paul George Haggis; and another member yet to be named.

What Does This Mean?

Premier Smith and her government have long been focused on decentralizing the health care system and delivering more regionalized solutions to improve timelines. Today’s announcement is the culmination of that approach, which began with replacing the AHS board with an administrator in November 2022. Decentralizing the health care system was also a key pillar in Premier Smith’s platform leading to her re-election in May 2023.

The announcement today reiterated the government’s focus on addressing wait times and health care service disruptions, while also acknowledging that challenges still exist in the system including access to family doctors and local health services. The announcement was contextualized with the assertion that the “current health care system’s structure limits the government’s ability to provide system-wide oversight, set system priorities, and to require accountability for those priorities on behalf of Albertans.”

With AHS having a primary focus on acute care, there is some uncertainty concerning the exact division of responsibility and overlapping mandate with the new acute care provincial organization which will oversee the delivery of hospital care, urgent care centres, cancer care, clinical operations, surgeries and emergency medical services.

Alberta was the first province to create a single health authority with the goal of creating a single administrative body to manage the complex health system and create economies of scale. At the time, the government described this as the largest organizational merger in Canada, with a mandate to reduce bureaucracy, improve access to service, and reduce regional inequalities. AHS, like many Canadian health authorities, struggled with increasing demands through COVID-19 and was at the centre of much patient frustration in the lead up to today’s announcement.

Alberta’s Official Opposition has been strongly critical of plans to decentralize the health care system and shared leaked documents yesterday which outlined timelines and potential risks. NDP Leader Rachel Notley responded to today’s announcement stating that, “instead of trying to get more doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other health care professionals to the bedside, this is simply a plan by the UCP for more direct control of those workers from the minister’s office.”

Further Reading

Read the government’s full news release here.
Read about the new AHS board here.