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Government & policy

Alberta dismisses all boards, creates single ‘super-board’

EDMONTON – In a massive shake-up, Alberta has replaced its nine regional health boards with a single ‘super-board’ as a way of streamlining the $13-billion provincial health system and to ensure that Albertans receive the same level of care no matter where they live.

“MLAs have brought to me instances of where one side of the road in one of the regions delivers services different from people who live on the other side of the road,” said health minister Ron Liepert (pictured) at a press conference in May.

“And so those are the kinds of things we need to ensure don’t happen in the system because an Albertan is an Albertan and should receive similar service across the province.”

The re-tooling of Alberta’s healthcare system took effect immediately, with the appointment of an interim Alberta Health Services Board CEO and seven-member board.

In addition to the nine former health authorities, it also replaces the Alberta Cancer Board, Mental Health Board, and substance-abuse commission.

Liepert told the news conference that “community health councils” will to some measure replace the local voices from the now-defunct regional boards, but there has to be a single board governing the whole system.

Liepert has been contemplating such a move for several weeks, as Premier Ed Stelmach asked him to try controlling Alberta’s endlessly skyrocketing health budget, which has more than doubled since 2001.

The minister said the powerful new Services Board, whose lineup will become permanent within nine months, will have to keep in mind Stelmach’s recent comments that the government wants to pare down administration costs, which amount to roughly 3.5 per cent of all health-region spending.

This furthers some of the Tories’ consolidation under former premier Ralph Klein. In the 1990s, he folded more than 100 hospital boards into 17 regional authorities, and then later into only nine.

According to a report in the Edmonton Sun, government members have been grumbling for years about the million-dollar salaries and benefits for the CEOs of health authorities in Edmonton and Calgary, as well as the dozens of public healthcare executives earning between $250,000 and $400,000.

But Capital Health president and CEO Sheila Weatherill says she’s not expecting to see a major reduction in the number of administration jobs in Edmonton.

“There will be some savings because with fewer boards, that will reduce administrative costs,” said Weatherill. “But the people we have now, we need and we’re short of people.”

The government says the restructuring – the fourth in the last two decades – will help remove contrary decisions that barred some Albertans from receiving the same level of care as others.

As well, the province also took issue with six of the nine boards running deficits, some of them repeatedly.

“I need to make it very clear this morning that today’s decision is about governance only,” said Health Minister Ron Liepert. “Patients and those thousands of people working in the system will not experience change in the delivery of health services in their region.”

Liepert noted the new board will identify barriers to access but did not explain why the single-board structure was chosen before the province knew what those barriers are.

The change was immediately applauded by the Alberta Medical Association, which said it’s time to get regional politics out of healthcare and start focusing on individual patient service.

Yet making such a move without broad consultation could lead to labour troubles, says David Swann, Liberal MLA for Calgary-Mountain View.

Swann said it will hurt efforts to fill Alberta’s shortage of doctors and nurses.

A former medical health officer, Swann called it ludicrous to restructure health care without doing a multi-year, comprehensive study of what does and doesn’t work in health restructuring.

Charlotte Robb, former CEO of DynaLife Diagnostic, a private firm, will head the new board’s administration.

Coupled with interim board chairman Ken Hughes owning an insurance company and Liepert suggesting the search for a permanent board could go international, Robb’s appointment led critics to suggest the restructuring is part of a slow slide toward privatization.

 

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