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AHS no longer in crisis, provincial government says, but there's still work to be done


Monday afternoon, Premier Danielle Smith said Alberta Health Services is not in crisis.

That is a complete about-face from what she said only three months ago when she fired the AHS board and appointed Dr. John Cowell as sole administrator.

"We've developed surge capacity, we're increasing the capacity across all entry points into the system," Smith said.

"Whether it's ambulance, whether it's telehealth, whether it's going to an emergency room, whether it's a surgical wait time, though, those things are tangible, because we're seeing the numbers go down."

Smith made the comments at a press conference releasing Cowell's first interim report on the health-care action plan begun in November.

"We wanted to give a sense of confidence for people because I don't think that they've had confidence in the last two and a half years," Smith said.

Cowell's report outlines actions that have been taken in the past 90 days and highlights others still in progress.

Additions to frontline staff include:

  • 114 full-time equivalent nursing staff for emergency-department teams in Alberta's 16 largest hospitals and some suburban hospitals; and
  • 127 full-time allied health staff, such as social workers, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

In addition, AHS will transition 70 current temporary full-time paramedic positions to regular (permanent) full-time.

The province says a further 80 full-time regular paramedic positions will be posted "shortly."

Cowell says the time for an ambulance to arrive dropped from almost 22 minutes to 17 minutes in most urban centres.

It remains over 57 minutes to get an ambulance in most rural areas, though even that is down from a peak of 64 minutes in November.

"That shows that the system's working," Smith said.

"It shows that the health professionals are getting confidence, it shows that there's incremental improvement happening across every one of our health facilities."

Cowell says the single biggest marker for success will be the reduction of surgical wait times.

Right now, there are over 35,500 Albertans who have been waiting up to three times longer than what is considered clinically acceptable for surgery.

That is a drop of five per cent from when Cowell began his work in November, but he admits it is still far too many Albertans waiting for too long.

"This is the most important number that we're driving hard. We want everybody inside the clinically recommended guidelines. It is my hope, and I actually believe, that we will be at zero waiting outside of clinical wait time by March of 2024," Cowell said.

"Nobody will be outside of clinically appropriate wait times. My team and I are absolutely confident that this is achievable."

One of the key ways Cowell expects to achieve that goal is through the increased use of publicly funded surgeries performed in private surgical facilities.

He expects a new facility run by the Enoch Cree Nation to perform 3,000 orthopaedic procedures.

In January, AHS signed a contract with Canadian Surgery Solutions to offer 3,000 additional orthopaedic procedures in Calgary.

Another 3,000 will be performed at a similar facility in Edmonton.

Additionally, Cowell says, 30,000 ophthalmology procedures will be performed at a new private surgical facility once its construction is complete.

NDP health critic Lori Sigurdson says the government has accomplished nothing, claiming the improvements Smith is trumpeting would've happened anyway.

"Today, the UCP still isn't even meeting their own targets for surgical capacity," Sigurdson said.

"What progress they are claiming in emergency rooms is largely due to the seasonal retreat of respiratory illnesses."

Dr. Tom Noseworthy of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health doubts any provincial government working alone can effectively solve the health-care dilemma.

"I would caution anybody to believe that this is going to fix the waiting-list problem in Alberta, because it simply will not. It will address the backlog problem period," Noseworthy said.

"The federal and provincial governments need to get their shoulders behind this one to fix it. It's a long-term, generational requirement to fix it. The tools are in place to do so. But simply injecting money, I'm absolutely opposed to doing that because it creates false hopes. They fix the problem, then a month or two down the road, it's only back yet again."

The provincial health minister did not address how much the changes so far have cost, nor how much the changes planned for the coming year will cost.

Jason Copping did hint that Tuesday’s provincial budget would contain substantial increases in health-care funding.

As well, the announcement came on the same day that Alberta became the seventh province in Canada to sign on to the federal-provincial health-care plan.

That will see $24 billion transferred from Ottawa to Alberta over the next 10 years.

(With files from The Canadian Press) Top Stories

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