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Alberta’s government introduces bill to begin sweeping revamp of health-care services

Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Health for Alberta, makes a health care announcement in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023. A doctors’ group says neonatal intensive care units in Edmonton have been too full and it’s putting vulnerable babies at risk. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

The Alberta government is introducing legislation to begin bringing a completely restructured health-care system to life.

A bill proposed Tuesday outlines how the many arms of Alberta Health Services will be dismantled and how four new provincial health agencies will fit together under Health Minister Adriana LaGrange.

Alberta Health Services, the current provincial health authority that oversees the delivery of everything from community care to acute care, will be relegated to strictly hospital care later this year.

It’s part of a multi-year transition estimated to cost $85 million. If passed, the bill will take effect in June.

Under the new structure, LaGrange will set the agenda and oversee the entire system, from budgets to workforce placement.

“We are poised to usher in an era of efficiency, accessibility, and patient-centered care,” she said before introducing the bill in the house.

Mental Health and Addiction Minister Dan Williams is heading up the first agency, Recovery Alberta, which is expected to be operational this summer.

Acute care, primary care, and continuing care agencies are expected in the fall, each with its own CEO. The legislation means that LaGrange will have a dual role in charge of each of those three sectors as well as oversight over all four new agencies.

LaGrange said the moves are meant to streamline operations, improve accountability, and better support workers on the front line.

Approximately 10,000 staff will be affected by the shift to Recovery Alberta.

For now, Alberta Health Services will continue to be responsible for public health functions, including restaurant inspections. The legislation doesn’t outline which agency will take over those jobs.

LaGrange said the office of the chief medical officer of health will remain under her ministry.

It’s expected that one procurement office will handle purchasing for the entire provincial system — a function long touted as a reason for Alberta Health Services.

Opposition health critic Luanne Metz said the government’s plan will centralize more control in Premier Danielle Smith’s office and do nothing to improve results for patients or support staff.

“This Frankenstein of a bill will continue the dismantling of Alberta Health Services and stuff patients and providers into ineffective silos,” said Metz.

LaGrange promised that there will be no job losses for staff who transition into the new organizations and said “every effort” is being made to avoid interruptions in patient care.

Existing bargaining units will remain intact, but the first step of the restructuring has already drawn fire from one health-care union in the middle of collective bargaining.

The United Nurses of Alberta and Alberta Health Services are currently in front of the Labour Relations Board over a complaint from nurses about the planned shift of staff to Recovery Alberta.