Alberta is planning to dismantle its province-wide health provider and could sell its publicly owned continuing care facilities, according to leaked cabinet briefing documents released by the opposition NDP.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley says the proposal to split Alberta Health Services would give complete political control over all health decisions to Premier Danielle Smith’s cabinet.
She says it would also bring chaos to the system and open the door to more private care.
“[The United Conservative Party government] “They created this crisis and now they want to blow up our entire healthcare system,” Notley told Smith and the UCP group during Tuesday’s question period.
“What’s wrong with you guys?”
Earlier Tuesday, Notley provided reporters with photocopies of a series of computer slides detailing the details of the government’s promised health care overhaul.
Notley said the documents were sent to the NDP anonymously.
A senior government source told Breaking: the slides are authentic and are approximately six weeks old.
“Is the Prime Minister really committed to what is outlined in these leaked documents?” Notley asked Smith during question period.
“One hundred percent committed,” Smith responded.
“We embarked on a process over the last year to try to work within the existing framework to improve performance, and we succeeded to some extent,” Smith added.
“But we need to do much more if we are to make further progress.”
Health Minister Adriana LaGrange told the House that the government would release its health reorganization plan on Wednesday.
“I want to be very, very clear. There is absolutely no plan to privatize health care. What we are going to do is strengthen health care across the province,” LaGrange said.
Smith has long promised fundamental reform of Alberta Health Services, or AHS.
AHS was created 15 years ago and is tasked with carrying out health policy and delivering frontline care across the province, handling everything from hospitals to long-term care homes, mental health and addictions, family practice and procurement.
Smith has criticized AHS as too top-down and monolithic in its decision-making and said it failed to respond to rising hospitalization rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, she fired the AHS board of directors and replaced it with a single trustee.
The leaked documents describe a sweeping reorganization of AHS, affecting about 250,000 workers.
Under the new organization, AHS would become one of four agencies overseeing health care tied not to geographic regions, as is the case currently, but to service delivery.
AHS would become the Critical Care Organization, responsible for running hospitals and, for the time being, laboratory and ambulance services.
Additionally, there would be a primary care organization, with a mandate to find a family doctor for every Albertan.
There would be a continuing care organization to oversee and manage those facilities. During the reorganization, the government would also consider selling AHS continuing care subsidiaries CapitalCare Group and Carewest.
The fourth agency, a mental health and addictions organization, would work directly with the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to promote the broader goal of a recovery-oriented system.
The four agencies would report to an integration council chaired by LaGrange. The council would include Mental Health and Addictions Minister Dan Williams, senior department officials and the leaders of the four subgroups.
A separate committee would handle procurement and other tasks, such as legal and payroll.
The government expects the reorganization to cost $85 million.
Notley told reporters that the change would create chaos, as the mandates of the four groups would inevitably intersect and overlap in an integrated health care system.
Smith has promised that the new system would enhance decision-making at the local and regional level.
The proposal encourages regions to offer suggestions through advisory committees, but decision-making authority remains with the four new organizations and LaGrange’s general council.
The documents say the government will begin passing legislation in the spring to get the reorganization done within 18 months to two years at an expected cost of $85 million, a price tag Notley said is unrealistically low.
The opposition leader said the plan does not address the health system’s biggest challenge, which is recruiting and retaining workers.
The documents also call for cabinet to elect a new AHS board that would be responsible for winding down AHS operations and determining whether AHS should still have a role in ambulance and laboratory services.
Chris Gallaway, head of the Friends of Medicare advocacy group, said the documents show the province is hell-bent on causing more disruption at the expense of solving urgent problems like the shortage of health-care workers.
“The people of this province deserve to know that our public health care is being protected and strengthened, not dismantled and disordered to meet the political whims of the government or the premier of the day,” Gallaway said in a statement.
Alberta Health Services declined to comment on the leaked plans.