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Government & policy

Alberta terminates nine health region CEOs

EDMONTON – In a controversial move, Alberta sacked the chief executives at all nine of the province’s health authorities earlier this month.

They included Calgary Health Region boss Jack Davis (pictured on left) and Capital Health’s Sheila Weatherill (pictured on right). CEOs were also eliminated at the three other medical bodies that govern cancer care, addictions services and mental health. Four of the CEOs will remain with the province’s new “super-board” in other roles.

The announcement comes nearly two months after Health Minister Ron Liepert eliminated the boards of Alberta’s nine regional health authorities. Liepert replaced the boards with the Alberta Health Services Board, a single Edmonton-based entity.

Under the changes, the board appointed several interim executives to the new organization, including Calgary physician Dr. Chris Eagle, former chief operating officer of the CHR, to the position of interim Chief Operating Officer for urban centres.

The super-board is chaired by Calgary businessman Ken Hughes. Kay Best, former chief financial officer of CHR, becomes the interim chief financial officer.

Other new hires at the board include Paddy Meade, former deputy minister of Alberta Health, who is the permanent Executive Operating Officer and Pam Whitnack, former CEO of Chinook Health Region, who becomes chief operating officer for the rural system.

Healthcare analysts across the country expressed skepticism about whether Alberta's move would improve the performance of the system.

“This is, in my view, a move backward into essentially having a ministry of health (running the system) with another name,” said Joseph D’Cruz, a professor and specialist in healthcare management at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

“I had always thought that the Alberta experience in regionalization was quite successful, and particularly, that Edmonton and Calgary had evolved into mature, successful regional authorities,” D’Cruz told the Edmonton Journal. “So we in Ontario quite envied the amount of progress that Alberta had made in that direction.”

“I would be very skeptical about how successful they’ll be in doing that because centralized bodies are generally not responsive to local needs and patient access is very much a local question,” D’Cruz said. “Local governance and local decision-making is a superior way of achieving patient access.”

Alberta’s move to centralize is exactly the opposite of what other provinces are doing, D’Cruz said. Only tiny P.E.I. has one health region. B.C. has five health regions, with one provincial health service overseeing some delivery.

Both Saskatchewan and Manitoba have several health regions and Ontario is developing a system with 14 regional health authorities.