FOM's response to the AHS review

With the release of the much-awaited performance review of Alberta Health Services (AHS), Albertans will have to wait until May 2020 to fully understand the real life consequences that the recommendations will have on Albertans.

EY, the private company that was contracted for $2 million to conduct the review, was tasked with focusing on economics, rather than best health outcomes for Albertans. The review was based in part on an online survey sent to AHS staff, which asked questions about improving efficiency and reducing cost – with no questions as to how this would affect the effectiveness of their ability to do their jobs, nor impact patient care.
While the report contained 57 recommendations, Minister Shandro indicated that not all of the recommendations will be implemented, and he has tasked Alberta Health Services with putting together an “implementation team” that will prioritize these recommendations with the government’s direction, and report back in May. Given this, the $1.9 billion that the government anticipates in savings is a presumptuous figure.
This report served to provide ideological fodder for this government to start the process of privatizing our health care system by contracting out and reducing health care services available to Albertans. “We don’t know how much contracting out our public health care will ultimately cost to the citizens of this province, nor were we provided any comparators of how much it would cost to increase in-hospital capacity or build public infrastructure in the interest of the public good,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare.
First and foremost, the review encourages contracting out throughout our public health care system, a move which Friends of Medicare recognizes as simply a replica of risky and costly experiments with privatization that we Albertans have seen rehashed time and again by subsequent governments.
Albertans voted for this government, but they did not hand them a blank cheque to insidiously erode our public health care. “This kind of myopic policymaking, as with that of past governments, will mean we are passing long-term costs onto future generations,” indicates Azocar. “The erosion of our public health care system, bit by bit, will only serve to create parallel private system, one that is publicly funded but privately provided.”
Some of the important concerns contained in the report:
  • Albertans will need to invest $669 Million to the cost of the Alberta Wait-Times Initiative
  • Seniors care will see increased marketization, and a more aggressive move towards turning this area of health care into a fertile ground for investment, and turning our seniors into a commodity that will be sold to the highest bidder
  • Maternity service consolidation in rural areas (the loss of maternity services in smaller communities has been a trend that has impacted the mobility of young people moving into rural areas)
  • The sale of Carewest and Capital Care to private providers as one-time revenue source
  • The recommendation that AHS consider further privatizing Long-Term Care (LTC) facilities
  • The recommendation that AHS convert LTC beds into Designated Supportive Living (DSL) beds, or in other words, reassesses those individuals needing 24 hours care for ‘unscheduled’ medical needs to lower levels of care found in Designated Supportive Living, resulting in lower staffing needs and removing Registered Nursing from seniors’ care
  • Outsourcing/privatizing of lab services
  • More privatization of tertiary services including: Inpatient food services, housekeeping services, protective Services, laundry and linen services
The recommendations outlined in this report ultimately have the potential to turn over our resources, health care dollars and staff to private companies that will be subsidized by public health care dollars, rather than put towards improving our existing public health care system.
Proponents of private health care insist that contracting out – our lab services, our surgeries, our seniors care – is benign because services are still paid for with public money. But time and again we have seen that it leads to a lack of transparency and accountability for contracted companies, higher costs, and worse patient outcomes. “The more you contract out, the more you distort the system by focusing it on a narrow range of lucrative, high-volume services specified in contracts, which makes it harder and harder to find physicians to treat other patients or to do teaching and research,” says Azocar.
Friends of Medicare are alarmed by the rapidness with which the government is imposing major policy  changes on Albertans without the thoroughness needed to fully consider the long-term impacts on patient care. Albertans need to take heed and demand better from a government whose ideological bend will see our public health dollars go into the private pockets of individuals, corporations and their shareholders, rather than to the improvement of the services that Albertans should be able to rely on. 
Friends of Medicare will be watching closely for developments on the implementation of these recommendations, and will be providing further response to this report in coming days.
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