Government & policy
Alberta’s health regions sinking into
Several of Alberta’s former health
regions had run up significant deficits and had relied on government
bailouts – leading the political masters in Edmonton to abolish the nine
provincial health boards, turf their CEOs and establish a single,
New documents show that five of the nine authorities faced budget
shortfalls in 2007-08.
As reported in the Calgary Herald, the statements show the two most
significant deficits were in Alberta’s major cities: Edmonton-based
Capital Health sank $18.5 million into the red last year, while Calgary
posted a well-publicized $97.5-million deficit.
In January, Alberta Health provided a one-time payment of $20.7 million
to Peace Country Health Region “to address cash flow issues,” according
to the department. The province also gave $40 million to David Thompson
Health Region in March to assist with the cost of expanding the Red Deer
Moreover, the Calgary Health Region ran so short of cash earlier this
summer, the Alberta government advanced it $32 million to ensure staff
pay-cheques wouldn’t bounce – a situation critics say reflects chronic
under-funding of the medical system.
“We needed the money to pay for salaries,” said Mark Kastner, a
spokesman with the CHR.
At the end of July, Health Minister Ron Liepert said he would ask the
Treasury Board for nearly $100 million to cover all of the regional
shortfalls by September, while accumulated surpluses in some authorities
will cover the rest of the deficit.
“I would anticipate asking for about $96 million, relative to the
deficits,” Liepert said.
Opposition critics questioned why the bailouts – and the total amount of
the regional deficits – were not made public until now and called on the
province to become more transparent about its spending.
“If the government is going to come back to us for an extra $100
million, they need to be far more open about what the heck it is they’re
doing,” said NDP MLA Rachel Notley. “We have not been getting the whole
The financial statements come as Liepert is moving to restructure the
province’s $13-billion-a-year medical system. This spring, the health
minister replaced the province’s nine regions and several other health
organizations with a single superboard.
The board has been charged with making the medical system more
accessible and sustainable. Alberta currently spends about 40 percent of
its budget on healthcare.
Many of the former regions posted deficits in recent years, saying
growth in health services has outpaced funding. In 2007-08, the regions
collectively sank about $125 million into the red.
Both Calgary and Edmonton attributed their deficits to growing overtime
costs, saying staffing shortages and increasing demand for medical
services had nurses and other health workers putting in many extra
“We had huge volume and capacity issues and there’s cost associated with
that,” said Mark Kastner, a spokesman for the CHR.
Dr. Tom Noseworthy, a health expert at the University of Calgary, said
the superboard will likely try to curb future spending increases by
cutting administration and increasing the bulk-buying of products.
To achieve long term savings, though, Noseworthy said the board will
have to drive a hard bargain on health worker salaries.
Health Region Finances:
• Aspen – $49,000 surplus
• Calgary – $97.5M deficit
• Capital – $18.5M deficit
• Chinook – $3.3M deficit
• David Thompson – $32.6M surplus
• East Central – $2.4M deficit
• Northern Lights – $31.1M surplus
• Peace Country – $4M surplus
• Palliser – $2.7M deficit
Source: 2008 audited financial statements from the regions.