Opinion

Does the Alberta Health Services Reform benefit Albertans or Danielle Smith?

Health care across the province is already struggling and the UCP's reformation approach isn't the right one.

It’s no surprise that the Alberta health care system has been struggling recently. Emergency room wait times have been higher than ever, and there’s a shortage of medical professionals in every field. 

An adjustment clearly needs to be made, but Premier Danielle Smith’s plan to completely restructure Alberta Health Services (AHS) is not the answer. Smith is attempting to covertly make changes to AHS against the interest of Albertans, and she needs to be stopped. 

On November 8, Smith announced that AHS will be dismantled into four separate entities. The categories are primary care, acute care, continuing care, and mental health and addiction. This overhaul will cost the provincial government $85 million, and will impact around 250,000 health-care workers. Contrary to Smith’s claims, she is not making these changes for the benefit of Albertans. Smith is more focused on her personal agenda than improving health care. 

The purpose of this reform is to “deliver better health care for patients and give more options for health care workers,” Smith said. However, factors such as questionable objectives, opposing strategies to other provinces, and the lack of support from AHS workers exemplify Smith’s self-serving objectives with this overhaul. 

Smith has stated that the primary goal of this reform is to get “the right patients in the right place receiving the right treatment.” However, I find this difficult to believe. She argues that splitting up AHS will eliminate the power of people in management positions. Yet, she is increasing the number of management positions. 

The amount of medical professionals that oppose this overhaul is unsettling. Nurses have said that spending millions of dollars on “additional layers of bureaucracy” will make health care less efficient. As well, medical professionals feel that the problem is not the structure of AHS, but rather the lack of medical staff and capacity. This suggests that Smith is not addressing the root cause of instability within AHS. The government would better spend the money allocated for this overhaul on recruiting more medical staff and building more facilities to increase capacity.

Smith claims that this structural reform will prioritize patient care. However, she did not consult any front line workers on the details of this plan. Medical professionals feel that Smith has not heard their concerns. Health care workers should have been consulted on the details of this overhaul, given that it affects their livelihood so greatly. An overhaul of this size will have a tremendous impact on health care workers’ ability to help patients. Especially when this isn’t a plan they support in the first place.

It seems like the overhaul of AHS is a sign of things to come. Many Albertans fear the privatization of health care, which seems like a possibility not far out of reach. Supposedly, health care services will remain publicly funded, although there is substantial evidence to dispute this. For example, Smith named Lyle Oberg, a former Conservative Party of Canada cabinet minister as the new chair of the AHS board. Historically, Oberg has helped set up private hospitals. His past actions hint at an agenda for the privatization of Alberta’s health care in the near future. Smith is clearly furthering her personal agenda without considering what is best for Albertans and health-care workers.

Health-care workers not only disagree with Smith’s plan to reform AHS, they were blindsided by it. It is not good for anybody if medical professionals are unaware of any aspect of Smith’s plan.

Albertans should be educating themselves about this situation and forming an opinion on it. Health care impacts everyone, so Albertans should have a health care system that they trust. This not possible if there’s a limited understanding of what is happening in the first place.

Smith’s overhaul will affect some Albertans more than others. People with a chronic illness or a disability will be disproportionately affected by this reform. Studies show that people with disabilities experience lower levels of income. The privatization of health care is extremely threatening, as this might cause further financial strain. They also frequently face inequities such as discrimination and poverty, even within the health care system. The threat of privatization would be detrimental to the quality of life for those with disabilities. 

Albertans need to become aware of this situation and fight for the system that will benefit them most. Smith has demonstrated that she is not willing to tell the truth about this overhaul. Albertans need to hold Smith accountable despite her inclination to make covert changes to a system that affects all of us.

Peris Jones

Peris Jones is the 2023-24 Deputy News Editor at The Gateway. She is in her third year, studying Media Studies and English. In her free time, she loves going to the gym, shopping, and watching movies with her friends.

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