Alberta Health Care Transformation – Here’s What You Need to Know

Decision Revision

During her leadership campaign and the provincial election, Premier Danielle Smith promised to fix Alberta’s health care system. More local decision-making and better health care outcomes for Albertans. Gone are the days of the government dumping more money into Alberta Health Services (AHS) and getting worse results for Albertans. We’ve heard this before.

Premier Smith’s government has announced several changes to Alberta’s health care system over the last year since she took office, including firing the AHS board and appointing an administrator, changes to Emergency Medical Services to improve ambulance wait times, amongst many others. Today’s announcement on the health care system reforms is going to shake up how Alberta’s health care system operates. It may even be the most substantial health care policy announcement since the formation of AHS was announced in 2008 (outside of the pandemic, obviously).

Enterprise Canada, alongside our dedicated health care practice EnterpriseHealth, has what you need to know about the health care transformation, including what’s new and what’s next for Alberta’s health care system:

Four New Organizations

At the heart of this announcement is the reform of AHS and the creation of four new provincial organizations dedicated to specific sectors: primary care, acute care, continuing care, and mental health and addiction. These four new organizations, which will be rolled out over the coming months and years, will provide dedicated leadership to each sector within the health care system, and have been tasked with improving patient outcomes in their respective areas. To ensure continued alignment within the system, the province is also establishing an Integration Council, which all four organizations will be a part of. In addition to ensuring alignment, the Council will be responsible for finding efficiencies and improving outcomes as the four new organizations come online.

With these new organizations, AHS will transition to focusing primarily on acute care, while its other services move to these new entities. AHS will be governed by a new board, chaired by former Cabinet Minister Dr. Lyle Oberg, who will be tasked with refocusing the organization as part of these broader health care reforms. Notably, three government Deputy Ministers will be serving on the board: Andre Tremblay (Alberta Health), Evan Romanow (Alberta Mental Health and Addiction) and Cynthia Farmer (Alberta Seniors, Community and Social Services)

Continuing Care

The first of the new organizations to be formed, the new provincial continuing care organization will be responsible for continuing care oversight, coordination, service delivery, home care, and community care. Operators who are currently contracted by Alberta Health Services will continue to deliver those services under the oversight of this new organization, and the organization will place a focus on providing timely and equitable access to services, increasing the number and geographic spread of care beds, and leveraging other health and social services.

Acute Care

Coming online in Fall 2024, the new acute care organization will be responsible for working directly with existing acute care providers, including AHS, chartered surgical facilities, and Covenant Health. Within the broader health care system, the organization will oversee urgent care centres, cancer treatment, hospital care, surgeries, emergency medical services (EMS) and clinical operations. It will focus on improving outcomes for wait times for emergency department visits and surgeries, EMS response times, and the quality of care and access to care in rural Alberta.

Primary Care

The new primary care organization, which will also be unveiled by the government in Fall 2024, will be tasked with coordinating primary health care services. The organization will be focused on ensuring every Albertan has access to a family doctor or nurse practitioner, improving timely access to primary care and after-hours support, and supporting an integrated team of health professionals to provide comprehensive primary care, including family physicians, nurse practitioners and pharmacists.

Mental Health and Addiction

Following the establishment of a standalone Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction last fall, through these changes the Ministry will begin to oversee the mental health and addiction system and manage related government funding. A new provincial mental health and addiction organization will deliver services currently offered by AHS, placing a continued focus on recovery-oriented care. This organization will focus on supporting Albertans who are struggling with addiction and mental health challenges, ensuring access to recovery-oriented supports, and continuing to expand access to treatment and recovery services. The provincial government will also be establishing a Centre of Recovery Excellence, which will focus on improving service delivery for mental health and addiction services.

Regional and Indigenous Advisory Councils

Through these reforms, Alberta Health will also restructure the currently existing 12 advisory councils and establish a new Indigenous advisory council. These bodies will be responsible for representing community perspectives, highlighting local priorities, and providing additional input on how to enhance the health care system. The four new health sectors – acute care, primary care, continuing care and mental health addiction – will be required to work closely with the councils.

What’s next?

Today’s announcement was comprehensive and all-encompassing and will mark a significant transformation to Alberta’s health care system. In addition to the details highlighted above, Alberta Health will be aligning its internal structure with the new provincial organizations while the Health Quality Council of Alberta is set to have its role expanded and a procurement and optimization secretariat within Alberta Health will be responsible for driving goods and service procurement efficiencies through economies of scale. Additionally, Covenant Health will no longer be contracted and funded through AHS and will transition to directly working with the newly announced provincial health organizations.

The government has also committed to engaging front-line health care workers, unions, associations, and everyday Albertans to gather feedback and input. With the scale of the reforms and commitment to consultations, these changes will not happen overnight. The province will have a lot of heavy lifting to do over the coming months and years. Enterprise Canada’s Western Canada team, alongside  EnterpriseHealth, will keep you updated as these changes progress.

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