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Government & policy

New health minister appointed in Alberta

EDMONTON – There is a new health minister for the province of Alberta – Gene Zwozdesky (pictured) is in, and the controversial Ron Liepert is out. Liepert presided over the melding of 12 regional health boards into one super-board, which required the firing of the executives of the regional boards.

“In fairness to Minister Liepert, he did an incredible amount of heavy lifting. He helped shape some policies that are going to drive a lot of the system and made some structural changes that we would agree are very important,” Zwozdesky told the Edmonton Journal.

“I’m not looking at reversing anything at this stage, obviously. I’m new in the portfolio. I’m going to get better acquainted with the people and the issues and then make the right decisions. I hope that will improve the system and arrive at the premier’s vision.”

Critics have already called on Zwozdesky to hire more nurses and staff. They also want him to end plans to close beds at Alberta Hospital.

Zwozdesky said already that no mental-health beds will be closed at the Alberta Hospital until appropriate space and care is made available for them in the community.

Zwozdesky asserted that he wants to forge relationships with the more than 100,000 people in healthcare in Alberta, much the same way he built rapport with people in the aboriginal community. As minister of aboriginal affairs, he visited almost all 47 First Nations, and successfully negotiated agreements involving the Grand Chiefs of Treaty 6, 7 and 8, the Metis Settlements General Council and the Metis Nation.

Rose Laboucan, chief of Driftpile First Nation, said Zwozdesky created a relationship of trust, credibility and openness with the aboriginal people. In general, Zwozdesky said he wants to get everybody focused on “the No. 1 issue and that is patient or user care.”

Tom Noseworthy, a health-policy expert at the University of Calgary, said Zwozdesky seems to be a better listener than Liepert. “Some might say you could never have gotten to where you are now with a single delivery system if you didn’t have a minister like Ron Liepert to drive it, and I would agree with that.”

Zwozdesky said he will also move the health system forward and said people need only look at his history in government to know that he was not a procrastinator.

However, the new minister has his work cut out for him. “I think we’re in for difficult times, not because it’s a new minister but because of the times, because of the requirements to reduce staff, cut positions, etc.,” Noseworthy said.

Posted Jan. 28, 2010