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Alberta announces health-care reform: AHS board fired, administrator appointed


Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Health Minister Jason Copping announced their plans to reform the province's health-care system on Thursday, saying an administrator will take over in place of the Alberta Health Services (AHS) board. 

"I promised Albertans that I'd address the decades-long issue that we have in our health-care system, and that I would do it without delay," Smith said.

"The current process isn't working fast enough, so we need to do something different."

Smith said patients are waiting "too long" to access the health-care system.

"We need a health-care system that meets our growing demand and to take action to improve access, and today we are taking steps to do just that."

Smith announced Dr. John Cowell, the previous AHS administrator in the Alison Redford era, will once again serve as the official administrator, replacing the existing part-time board of directors. 

Smith said Cowell brings a "wealth of experience to the position."

"He can accelerate the changes that we all need to see," Smith said. "He is familiar with Alberta's health-care system, he knows that we can do better, and I have every confidence in his ability to deliver meaningful reform for Albertans."

Smith says Cowell has been asked to look at four "urgent needs," including:

  • Improving EMS response times;
  • Decreasing emergency room wait times;
  • Reduce the wait times for surgeries; and
  • Develop long-term reforms through consultation with frontline workers.

Cowell will report directly to Copping and Smith.

Copping says to move forward, the government first has to acknowledge current challenges.

"We know that patients are waiting too long for ambulances to arrive," he said. 

"We need to drive new initiatives into practice faster than we normally can and we have, and we need a temporary change in governance to support that."


Copping says having a single administrator is better than a board because the role provides "a full-time dedicated full-time focus to issues instead of a part-time strategic board."

"Responses can be immediate and dynamic," he said.

Copping stressed the move is a "temporary fix," saying a board will be restored at a later time.

"Under the legislation you have a choice from a part-time strategic board or you have an administrator.

"The advantage of an administrator is that they can be full-time, can dive right in to deal with issues specifically from an operational standpoint, and assist AHS, to assist them to driving change faster."


Cowell said Thursday he is "confident" he will be able to deliver on the four main priorities the government has outlined.

"I really do hope that I'll be able to make an effective contribution to making the health-care system stronger and better for the patient experience."

Cowell says the province's health-care system is in crisis.

"We know it. The front-line workers are saying it is. We've heard it, they've heard it, I've heard it. I'm grateful to be back in a position to do something about it – to listen and act."

Thursday's news conference came one day after Smith outlined her expectations for health care in the province in a mandate letter to the health minister.

Smith outlined 11 commitments for Copping, including overhauling AHS, improving senior care and addressing health-care staffing issues.

She also recently announced the province's new interim chief medical officer of health. Top Stories

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