Gov't can't be trusted with our public health care system

Kenney & his government cannot be trusted with our public health care system

Today’s release of the AHS Performance Review Proposed Implementation Plan is, in short, the biggest betrayal of Albertans by any government.

“Once again, this Premier and his government are callously advancing plans to suit their aggressive privatization agenda in health care,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “Kenney’s UCP government continues to demonstrate nothing but disdain for the women and men working on health care’s front lines. Considering how central they have proven themselves in the province’s pandemic response, this whole plan is an insult to health care workers, and it’s a betrayal of the patients who depend on them.”

The aggressive changes outlined in the proposed plan are not unexpected, but are yet another step in this government’s plan to privatize our health care. We saw them take a step with the release of the MacKinnon report back in September 2019, and another big step with the release of AHS Performance Review in February. Both reports recommended massive restructuring of our health care system through major privatization, and both rely heavily on Fraser Institute data, the reliability of which was most recently called into question by the BC supreme court in their landmark Cambie Case ruling:

“It is unclear whether any general conclusions can be drawn from the Fraser Institute surveys, even if these surveys could generally be relied upon as providing reliable data (a proposition I seriously question).”

Despite the major questions as to the reliability of the two reports remaining, the Alberta government has not hesitated in capitalizing on them as the ideological fodder they need to accelerate the process of privatizing our health care system through contracting out and reducing the health care services available to Albertans.

The AHS review, contracted by American accounting firm Ernst & Young for over $2 million, was intended to find inefficiencies in the system. This report contained 57 recommendations that, by their estimate, could result in $1.9 billion in savings, though Ernst & Young cautioned those figures don’t represent expected, or even achievable, actual savings, and Health Minister Shandro indicated at the time that not all recommendations were feasible, or would be implemented.

Following its release, Health Minister Shandro turned the AHS review report over to an AHS implementation team, which was tasked with reporting on their own recommendations in 100 days. As this date was five months delayed by the province’s pandemic response, nothing had been made public until today. The 82 page plan outlines extensive cuts across our public health care system, acutely in line with the recommendations made by the initial Ernst & Young review. While the Health Minister has publicly stated that the implementation will be determined by AHS and guided by Operational Best Practices, a leaked document acquired by CBC reveals that Minister Shandro had in fact directed AHS to produce plans to implement all of the recommendations in the Ernst & Young report, except for a few he determined were off the table.

Included in the proposal are plans to contract out in-hospital food, laundry and environmental services, removing nurses’ collective agreement provisions, introducing home care co-pays, ramping up chartered surgical services, and reconfiguring rural emergency department, acute care and maternity/obstetric services—among many others. This plan has the potential to turn our health care dollars, resources and staff over to private companies which will be subsidized by public health care funding. Most pressingly, the government has forecasted 11,000 health care job losses, affecting up to 16,000 workers across the province.

While in today’s press conference, Minister Shandro said there would be no impact to nurses or front-line health workers for the duration of the pandemic, this contradicts the letter received this morning by the United Nurses of Alberta, which clearly states that AHS intends to proceed with its previously announced layoff of 500 nursing full-time equivalents, which equates to 750 nurses out of work, according to UNA’s estimation.

“Rather than building upon the solid foundation that we have in our health care, this government is choosing to sell it off to the highest bidder without presenting Albertans with so much as a business plan to show how these proposed ‘savings’ would impact patients and the care they are able to access,” says Azocar. “Rather than recognizing the vital importance of our health care providers, they are choosing to cut 11,000 good jobs at a time when many Albertans are already out of work. Albertans need to ask themselves if this is the recovery they envisioned for their province. Frankly, we demand better.”

AHS’s plan, as directed by Minister Shandro, will see no less than the decimation of our public health care. Despite Minister Shandro’s attempt to spin it, contracting out is not just a change in employers, it’s a change in the way we deliver health care and a clear move towards private health care. As we continue to navigate the immediate and long-term implications of this pandemic, Alberta’s government is trying to suggest that the path forward lies in laying off thousands of health care workers, and privatizing our health care. Albertans should know better than to trust them.

More to follow from Friends of Medicare in the coming days.