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Smith’s plans to disband AHS is engineering chaos

Posted on November 24, 2023 by Ryan Dahlman

The recent news of the UCP’s plans to disband Alberta Health Services (AHS), effectively shattering the organization into four factions, has re-ignited the discourse surrounding Smith’s pro-privatization agenda for the healthcare system. 

Despite a well-documented history of Smith’s pro-privatization rhetoric, critics of Smith’s healthcare agenda have been dismissed and accused of “fear-mongering”; a term which Smith seems to broadly apply to people who simply observe her track record, analyze her own words, actions, and policies, and dare ask, “where might you be going with this?”

The UCP’s latest announcement to completely restructure Alberta Health Services (AHS) in an effort to solve capacity issues within the health care system ignited debate surrounding how this decision will further destabilize the healthcare system, inviting more opportunities to implement privately delivered care. 

In a Nov. 8 press release, Smith said, “while all Albertans can and should be proud of our front-line professionals, the structure behind them is not setting them up for success.”

Perhaps criticism of AHS as a top heavy organization isn’t completely unfounded, but is the answer to destabilize, or rather, obliterate it altogether? 

Smith announced four new organizations will be responsible for delivering health services in Alberta.

Primary care, acute care, continuing care, and mental health and addiction care have been identified as the four areas of health services. According to a government media release issued last Wednesday, AHS under the new structure will primarily be concerned with acute care and continuing care, with primary care and mental health and addictions care being relegated to the newly-formed organizations. 

In tasking four separate organizations with overseeing the four healthcare services as laid out by the UCP, it raises concerns as to how exactly this will create less bureaucracy. Former Premier and CEO of Covenant Health, Ed Stelmach, joined the Premier last week in a press conference where he spoke in support of the dissolution of AHS. A confusing advocate, to say the least, since Stelmach is the figure most associated with the creation of AHS in 2008 and 2009, and has now, apparently, changed his mind.

Concerns were also raised following the announcement by the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA). In part, the UNA’s statement claimed the restructuring would not address most of the principle concerns for nurses in Alberta. 

“(The) United Nurses of Alberta sees nothing in the breakup of Alberta Health Services and the restructuring of the administration of public health care announced this morning by the provincial government that will address the principal crisis that concerns most nurses – chronic understaffing and overwork caused by the shortage of nurses,” said the organization in an official statement last week. 

Last Wednesday, Mike Parker, President, Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) said, “HSAA is ready to work with government to make improvements to the health system as long as the premier keeps her commitment that this is not about privatization. Publicly-funded and delivered health care will produce the best outcomes for Albertans and patient care must be placed above all other considerations.”

Alberta’s Health minister, Adriana LaGrange has said, “there is absolutely no plan to privatize health care.” 

But, if track records mean anything, the decision to appoint Dr. Lyle Oberg as interim AHS board member has merely added to speculation of plans to allow for further privatization, taking into account the various for-profit healthcare facilities backed by Oberg.

Oberg is a former chairperson for the North America Healthcare International Hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam, a fully modern, 200-bed, luxury, privatized and for-profit hospital in Vietnam. Oberg also formerly held a director role with Ad Vitam Healthcare Ltd., a private corporation which under a 50-50 partnership with the Westbank First Nation (WFN), proposed a for-profit health care facility be built on WFN lands. According to a July 2013 article published in the Thompson/Okanagan Business Examiner, Ad Vitam Healthcare Ltd. would help acquire investment capital to build the facility, however, this project never materialized.

It is easy to understand why many Albertans are deeply concerned for how this plan to shatter AHS will further destabilize the public healthcare system, opening the door for further privatization.  

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