The Government of Alberta has revealed plans to overhaul the province’s health services, aiming to streamline the healthcare system into four specialized areas: primary care, acute care, continuing care, and mental health and addiction services.

Long wait times and suboptimal health outcomes were major reasons behind the decision to announce a restructuring. 

“For too many years, Alberta’s healthcare system has been too complex and uncoordinated, leading to unacceptable wait times and poorer health outcomes for Albertans. It’s time to change that… This is why we are refocusing the health system to provide better care for generations of Albertans to come,” said Alberta Premier Danielle Smith.

Under the new scheme, the responsibilities previously managed by Alberta Health Services (AHS) will be divided to enhance targeted oversight and improve healthcare delivery. A seven-member board appointed by Health Minister Adriana LaGrange will lead the transition.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley spoke out against the United Conservative Party’s plans after receiving leaked documents a day prior. 

“This is clearly a scheme to sell off and privatize public health care piece by piece,” said Notley

Health Minister Adriana LaGrange has denied claims that Alberta will privatize health care and accused Notley of misleading voters. 

“There is no privatization of healthcare. It is publicly funded public healthcare that we’re talking about,” Lagrange stated during the press conference. 

Danielle Smith clarified concerns around privatization during the press conference as well.

“I made a public healthcare guarantee to Albertans. That means no one will ever pay out of pocket for a visit to a doctor or for hospital services, and that is not changing. These reforms have nothing to do with privatization. They are also not about cuts,” said Smith.

Smith said that she anticipates that there will be no job losses to AHS staff working in frontline positions, who are directly delivering patient care. She added that Alberta’s government recognizes the need for more healthcare workers and will continue to recruit and train more of them.

By the Fall of 2024, each healthcare sector will be supported by its own dedicated organization.

Primary care will shift, with a new body ensuring all Albertans are linked to a provider, without assuming control over individual physicians’ practices.

The restructured AHS will be responsible primarily for acute care services. The new organization will be accountable for overseeing the delivery of hospital care, urgent care centres, and emergency services.

In tandem with the restructuring, a new procurement and system optimization secretariat will be appointed and tasked with streamlining procurement of goods and services. 

The government hopes that although services are decentralized, it will not impact the system’s ability to scale when required.

The Continuing Care Organization will manage the provision of continuing care with a focus on accommodating the aging population. By not directly operating facilities, it is expected to manage contracts for service delivery more efficiently and create a single point of entry for the system. 

The Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction will be tasked with creating a new agency in charge of comprehensive, recovery-oriented care. 

“Our government is making sure Albertans have more access to mental health supports and addiction treatment services than ever before. The direction we are taking in Alberta is caring for Albertans and supporting them in their pursuit of recovery,” said Dan Williams, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction.

Additionally, Covenant Health will adapt to this new structure. No longer contracted through AHS, it will directly engage with the new specialized organizations to continue providing acute and continuing care services throughout Alberta.

The rationale for this reorganization is to address the perceived limitations of AHS in providing system-wide oversight and prioritization. The government aims to create a more accountable and performance-driven system via the new bodies.

Local input is central to the reorganization, with the restructuring of the 12 regional advisory councils and the creation of a new Indigenous advisory council, set to provide regional perspectives and advise the new organizations on local needs.

An integration council will be formed immediately to ensure system alignment, identify efficiencies, remove barriers, and ensure the system delivers better health outcomes.

The transition will take place over two years. Fall 2023 introduces the healthcare system refocusing. Next winter, transition boards will be established for primary care and continuing care. A public advisory council will then be established. An engagement with frontline health workers will also take place.

Legislation is expected to be introduced in Spring 2024. Continuing care and mental health and addiction organizations will be formed during this time period. Healthcare workers and Albertans will be consulted at this time. 

During Fall 2024, legislation will continue. Primary and acute care organizations will be formed, and the remaining steps will be finalized.