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The Alberta government is paving the way for a complete overhaul of the province’s healthcare system and its plan includes new ministerial positions for specific healthcare branches. The province has proposed legislation to implement the healthcare system changes promised in November

The Health Statutes Amendment Act, Bill 22, intends to ensure that Albertans can find a primary care provider, receive urgent care without long waits, have access to continuing care options, and obtain mental health and addiction treatments.

If passed, the Health Statutes Amendment Act will transition Alberta Health Services to four sector-based provincial health agencies, including primary care, acute care, continuing care, and mental health and addiction. The changes aim to improve patient care and better support front-line healthcare workers, who will work in organizations focused on their specific areas of expertise. 

“The agencies will be responsible for delivering integrated health services, ensuring Albertans receive timely access to care, regardless of where they live,” said the Alberta government in a press release.

Social Services Minister Jason Nixon said increased oversight and collaboration will set a “strong foundation for a healthcare system that is better equipped to address the diverse needs of each of our communities.

Bill includes amendments to the Regional Health Authorities Act and the Health Information Act, neither of which have been updated since the 1990’s. The amendments involve renaming the Regional Health Authorities Act to the Provincial Health Agencies Act and eliminating outdated references to facilitate the transition from a single regional health authority to a unified, sector-specific provincial health system.

The act is intended to transition Alberta’s healthcare system from one regional health authority to an integrated system of sector-based provincial health agencies.

To support the amendments, 43 other acts are being amended; some amendments include replacing references of “regional health authority” with “provincial health agency” where applicable. 

The Health Statutes Amendment Act will establish roles for an oversight minister and sector ministers. The Minister of Health will become the oversight minister, responsible for implementing the strategic direction of the overall health system. While sector ministers will be responsible for establishing the strategic direction for the individual health services under their purview, they will need to align their duties with the strategic direction set by the oversight minister.

The sector minister for Recovery Alberta will be the Minister of Mental Health and Addiction. 

The oversight minister may establish additional health service sectors and designate responsible ministers for the new sectors.

The act includes provisions for setting up advisory councils, including new regional advisory councils and an Indigenous Advisory Council, to provide input and advice.

Also introduced in the Act are Health Services Delivery Organizations, which can be designated by sector ministers to deliver health services. This includes entities such as continuing care homes, surgical centres, and recovery centres.

Despite concerns raised in the past, the Alberta government assured that healthcare would remain publicly funded, ruling out any move towards privatization. 

Dan Williams, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction, emphasized the importance of prioritizing mental health and addiction services within the new framework. 

“Mental health and addiction have been growing issues within our society and need to be prioritized within our health care system,” said Williams. “Amid an addiction crisis, a refocused health system will allow for mental health and addiction services to get the attention, oversight, and focus they need.”

Staff transitioning from Alberta Health Services into new organizations are not expected to face job losses, and interruptions to employment or patient care are not anticipated. Unionized employees transferring to the new provincial health agencies will retain their existing collective agreements and bargaining processes. 

The bill will take effect in June if passed. If the Health Statutes Amendment Act is passed, Recovery Alberta, the mental health and addiction provincial agency, will begin operating in the summer of 2024. The primary care, acute care, and continuing care provincial health agencies will be established in the fall.

Alberta Health Services will continue to operate as a regional health authority during the transition period before focusing on acute care services in fall 2024.