Some health care union leaders say they are encouraged to hear the premier of Alberta acknowledge the overwhelming pressure workers are under.
However, executives are skeptical that firing Alberta’s health services board and appointing a new administrator with quick fixes is bound to succeed.
Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, said the provincial government will only meet its goals for better wait times for ambulances, emergency care and surgeries if it hires significantly more people. employees and improve working conditions.
“They need more support, not more upheaval,” Smith said of workers following Premier Danielle Smith’s firing of 11 AHS board members.
AUPE has 45,000 members who work for AHS, in roles such as clerical staff, maintenance, food service, custodial, licensed practical nurses, orderlies, and more.
Guy Smith and the president of the Alberta Health Sciences Association, Mike Parker, met with the premier on Thursday before the system reforms were announced. They said former prime minister Jason Kenney had never met either during his three-year rule.
Union leaders worry about the government’s ability to recruit workers to meet ambitious improvement targets.
Some services, especially in rural areas, “just need staff”, said Guy Smith. “I don’t know where AHS or the Minister will actually find these employees. They won’t magically appear.”
Prime Minister Smith’s rationale for appointing a Dr. John Cowell as AHS trustee and removing the board was to allow Cowell to quickly approve decisions that would allow, for example, the expansion of pilot programs to province-wide and a restructuring of the provincial health authority.
Cowell reports to the Minister of Health and the Prime Minister. It’s not yet known if he has any specific goals to cut AHS managers.
“We need to support our province’s exceptional front-line staff to do what they do best, which means cutting red tape and listening to them and patients,” said the press secretary for the Prime Minister Becca Polak in a statement Friday.
Union says some proposed solutions are problematic
At a press conference on Thursday, the Prime Minister and Cowell said the leaders knew how to solve some of the problems of many previous studies – they just had to be bold enough to act.
Health Minister Jason Copping referred to a pilot project in which patients are transported between local and regional hospitals for medical tests using vehicles with less equipment on board than an ambulance, by personnel with less medical training.
Parker, whose union represents 240 medical professionals, including paramedics and 911 communicators, said there are good reasons for transporting patients by ambulance, even if they seem stable.
Due to pressures on the health care system, people who are still hospitalized are getting sicker than in the past, Parker said.
“Anyone who can provide a vehicle and a person with a driver’s license (will do) what they deem to be the most benign transfers,” he said. “Well, whose decision is benign? Now we play.”
Parker pointed to a case that brought this discussion to the fore in 1995. A two-year-old Aboriginal boy died in a taxi in his mother’s arms while being transferred between hospitals in Edmonton and St. Paul. .
At the time, health officials said a taxi ride was much cheaper than an ambulance. An inquest into the deaths found the boy would likely have died no matter how he was transported, but it has sparked a review of how patients are moved.
The problem is a shortage of hundreds of paramedics across the province, Parker said.
Cowell also suggested Thursday that communications officers, who respond to 911 calls and dispatch paramedics, could assess over the phone whether the person needs an ambulance or could call Health Link nurses at 811.
Parker said communications managers are already so stretched that they have to hang up callers early to handle more incoming calls. They don’t have time to ask enough questions to analyze emergencies, he said.
Former board member writes scathing letter
Following his criticism of the premier in an interview with CBC News on Thursday, outgoing AHS board member Tony Dagnone wrote an open letter to Albertans on Friday, warning them of the risks to health care.
“His distorted stance on COVID, which I remind the Prime Minister ‘was and is’ a public health issue and not a political punching bag, is nothing short of a borderline breach when life of AHS staff and Albertans is at stake,” Dagnone wrote.
Dagnone said the performance of Alberta healthcare workers, AHS managers and the board during the COVID-19 pandemic was exemplary. He accused her of spreading and promoting ‘medical quackery’, conspiracy allegations, and questioned who would pursue a health care career in a province with an ‘anti-science premier’.
Parker said the letter vindicated and showed the AHS board of directors knew how serious the crisis in frontline care was.
In response, the Prime Minister’s press secretary, Polak, said the changes are an opportunity to improve health system performance for patients.
“This decision was not personal, it is about better outcomes for Albertans, and we are grateful for the work done by the AHS Board of Directors,” she said.