June 16th, 2024

Fragmenting AHS not the answer, says AUPE

By ANNA SMITH on May 22, 2024.

asmith@medicinehatnews.com

The Health Statutes Amendment Act, or Bill 22, is aimed to refocus the health-care system to help Albertans find the care they need; however, many health-care workers say it doesn’t address the root of the issue.

The bill will enable the transition from one regional health authority, Alberta Health Services, to an integrated system of four sector-based provincial health agencies including primary care, acute care, continuing care and mental health and addiction, said the province in a press release.

“We are taking another step toward improving health care by updating legislation and enabling the governance and oversight required to refocus the health system,” said Minister of Health Adriana LaGrange. “The critical improvements to transparency and accountability will help support the successful refocusing of the health-care system to one that is responsive, effective and reflects the needs and priorities of Albertans today and for future generations.”

It will also establish both sector ministers for each pillar of the system, as well as put the health minister in the position of oversight minister, to set the strategic direction for the system. This oversight will enable the officials “to better direct resources to the front lines where they are needed the most,” the province claims.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, however, feels this is merely distracting Albertans from the issues that continue to plague the health-care system, and the union is concerned about the lack of consultation prior to proposing these changes.

“The thing that concerns us the most is the uncertainty and the lack of upstream thinking that this government shows when they make these huge systemic changes in such a short period of time,” AUPE vice president Sandra Azocar said. “They’ve been done without any consultation with frontline staff, or, really anybody that has any idea of how these changes will impact our delivery of the services that Albertans have come to expect.”

Azocar continued on to say that change isn’t foreign to health-care workers, who are highly adaptable, but she stressed that notification of such a large change is not consultation with those the bill would affect.

She added that she does not believe it will address the issues the system is currently facing, and instead serve to put more pressure on workers.

“This does not make health-care workers feel seen and valued. In fact, it may drive more health-care workers away from their jobs and do nothing to improve morale or retain and recruit workers,” said Azocar.

There are already concerns among AUPE members that this separation of the different facets of the system will lead to poorer working conditions and communication, which in turn will lead to poorer care for patients, said Azocar.

“Even now it is difficult, sometimes, to kind of move within the health-care system in a seamless way. But the fragmentation, the fact that we will have different ministers, and the fact that we will have different ministries, it’s a huge concern,” said Azocar. “And I think that’s one of the biggest ones that Albertans should be concerned with is the fragmentation of our system.”

Azocar put forward that the province should instead focus on addressing the lack of health-care workers, by working to retain those present and recruit more professionals to fix short staffing, which is one of the biggest roots of current problems with the system.

Azocar believes the bill is an attempt to distract Albertans from unreasonable wait times for surgery, emergency services, lack of family doctors and extensive travel to larger centres to access health care.

“All these are unacceptable situations, but imploding AHS is not the answer when the focus should be on the core issues facing our health-care system,” Azocar says.

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