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Workers react to details of Alberta health-care system restructuring plan

Goodbye Alberta Health Services — hello Alberta Hospital Services.

On Tuesday, legislation was tabled to set up the restructuring of Alberta’s health-care system and those on the frontlines are anxious as details of the overhaul are announced.

If Bill 22, the Health Statutes Amendment Act, is passed, Alberta Health Services will become the new acute-care sector authority called Alberta Hospital Services and will work alongside primary care, continuing care, and mental health and addiction care, which will be branched off.

While the program is rolling out, LaGrange will act as the oversight minister and the sector minister in acute, primary and continuing care, and Mental Health Minister Dan Williams will be the mental health and addiction sector minister.

AHS staff will be reorganized into four specific sectors, operating within more-defined parameters and with more government oversight. The government has stated there will be no job loss for staff who transition into the new organizations.

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According to the province, each agency has specific focuses.

The primary care agency will ensure that every Albertan has access to a family doctor or nurse practitioner, acute care will work to reduce wait times and enhance access to care particularly in rural communities, and continuing care will focus on equitable access to services and the expansion of continuing-care options.

The mental health and addiction agency, Recovery Alberta, is set to be operational this summer, with the other three health authorities to follow in the fall of 2024. Around 10,000 front-line staff will be transitioning to Recovery Alberta, according to Williams.

Click to play video: 'Alberta unveils new health-care system structure'

Alberta unveils new health-care system structure

Registered nurse Adam Henley says consultation with frontline workers could have prevented the need for a complete overhaul.

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“I’m quite concerned about the division that we’re seeing in the health system in the moment and then to exacerbate that, really from a nursing perspective, this can be very unwise given that they didn’t stabilize the system before doing this,” Henley told Global News.

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“I think AHS had a lot of potential and really it comes down to culture over individual job positions.”

Dr. Paul Parks says there will be staff who work in all four organizations and patients whose treatment will see them go through each of the groups.

He has been involved in discussions with the government about the rollout. He says it’s important that all four organizations share the same privileges, bylaws and policies.

“If this improves integration, that would be an excellent thing but if it ends up siloing and causing more bureaucracy and more red tape, it would be a really bad thing,” the president of the Alberta Medical Association said.

The Alberta NDP believes the change will instead allow for more private health care.

“Because of all these different sectoral organizations with a lack of transparency around the board and a lack of accountability around the boards, I suspect we’ll see far more of it,” leader Rachel Notley said Wednesday.

But the government insists the restructuring will ease pressures on the current system.

“We are going to have Alberta Health Services become Alberta Hospital Services so that they can focus on delivering the very best acute care, making sure they deal with emergent issues, making sure they can deliver surgeries,” Premier Danielle Smith said during question period Wednesday.

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Click to play video: 'Alberta unveils plans to overhaul health-care system'

Alberta unveils plans to overhaul health-care system

Dr. Parks says, if that is the case, it’s good the province wants to have the system restructured by the end of the year.

“The system’s really struggling and really in trouble and so if we’re going to be doing this to try to improve things then let’s A.) hope it improves things and B.) get moving,” Dr. Parks said.

The government wants to see the legislation passed by the end of May. AHS will continue to act as the health authority in the interim, until the fall of this year.

— With files from Mia Parker, Shootin’ the Breeze

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