Since forming government in April 2019, the UCP has relentlessly reminded Albertans that they will deliver on their platform, in which privatization of our public health is clearly underlined. This continues to be of great concern for those of us who believe that health care should be available to all, based on need and not ability to pay.
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MAY 18, 2022: KENNEY STEPS DOWN
Jason Kenney announced his decision to resign as UCP Leader after receiving 51.4% in his leadership review. Details of a process to replace him have yet to be announced, but the change in leadership is happening at a time when Albertans are struggling with a health care system in chaos. This is a political decision that we hope will not distract from the urgent, multiple health care crises this province is facing. Albertans have been outspoken about their opposition to the cuts and privatization that have been imposed on our health care system under this government, and we will continue to do so. Regardless of who is Premier, or which party is in power, Albertans need to see concerted and decisive action from all of our leadership if we are going to get our public health care system back on track.
MAY 13, 2022: AB RALLIES FOR PUBLIC HEALTH CARE
Rallies in 5 cities across Alberta were held in recognition of Nurses Week and in protest of the government's ongoing attacks on Alberta's public health care. Hundreds of people, including FOM chapters and members, gathered in Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. Albertans made their voices heard in speaking out against funding cuts, privatization, and ongoing disrespect of health care workers. Speakers included labour leaders, FOM board members and chapter chairs, and members of Pump 4 Life Alberta, who continue to hold the government's feet to the fire to protect Albertans' access to insulin pumps.
MAY 12, 2022: NURSING WEEK
This week is National Nursing Week, with May 12 marking International Nurses Day. Alberta’s health care workers continue to be pushed to their limit on the front lines day after day. Nurses, and all of our vital front-line workers, deserve more than empty platitudes and meaningless shows of recognition this week—they deserve to know that their crucial role in our public health care system is truly valued, and they deserve to work with proper staffing, in safer, sustainable working conditions.
MAY 3, 2022: INSULIN PUMP CUTS
The provincial government has announced changes to its Insulin Pump Benefits Program, impacting up to 4,000 Albertans with diabetes. Instead, people will have to seek coverage via private workplace insurance plans, or government benefit plans, potentially leaving many Albertans subject to costly co-pays and premiums. This kind of short-sighted pursuit of ‘savings’ has become par for the course for this government, with no consideration for the long-term impacts on Albertans, or the downstream costs on our public health care system as a result of health complications incurred by patients who will inevitably be unable to afford their treatments.
APRIL 28, 2022: DAY OF MOURNING
APRIL 28, 2022: END OF DISCRIMINATORY BLOOD BAN
Health Canada has approved Canadian Blood Services’ request to end the 3-month deferral period for men who have sex with men, effectively lifting the ban on their ability to donate blood and plasma. Canadians have already waited too long for this discriminatory blood donation ban to be removed, which previously required a 3-month deferral, in contradiction to all evidence. A growing group of potential blood donors will now have the ability to donate, which is good news for our voluntary public blood supply, for patients and our health care system, especially while jurisdictions like Alberta are compromising it by allowing for-profit plasma centres to operate.
APRIL 22, 2022: OPHTHALMOLOGY PRIVATIZATION
The Alberta government is moving forward with plans to further privatize Alberta’s surgical services, specifically our ophthalmology. Actual figures as to how much will it cost to perform cataract surgeries in the private sector compared to the public have not been shared with Albertans, however, a similar initiative in Ontario revealed contracted cataract surgeries cost the province at least 25 percent more per operation than if they were provided in hospitals.
Albertans have repeatedly seen that contracting out services only adds to the complexity and inequity of the health care system. The province is still suffering the ongoing repercussions of previous governments' ideological experiments with our health care.
APRIL 7, 2022: FEDERAL BUDGET
This year’s federal budget included items laid out in the Confidence and Supply Agreement with the NDP, most notably: adding dental care coverage for all children 12 and under this year. Unfortunately, more work is still urgently needed on universal pharmacare, long-term care standards, paid sick leave, the drug poisoning crisis, and protecting public health care in Alberta.
APRIL 4, 2022: REMOVAL OF AHS PRESIDENT
Alberta Health Services (AHS) has announced the removal of Dr. Verna Yiu from her role as president and CEO. CTV News has since confirmed she was fired. There was a year left in Dr. Yiu’s contract, and the board did not offer any reason for her removal. Albertans are concerned that this will be used as an opportunity for the appointment of a leader who will more readily support the acceleration of the government’s privatization agenda.
In 2021, Albertans saw the troubling political appointments of two AHS board members: Hartley R. Harris, CFO for Tyler Shandro’s 2019 campaign, and Jack Mintz, an avid proponent of the privatization of our health care.
MARCH 28, 2022: CONTINUING CARE ACT
The newly tabled Continuing Care Act is woefully lacking in any meaningful changes to improve Alberta’s continuing care system. The Bill follows the government’s Facility-Based Continuing Care Review, and consolidates 15 pieces of current legislation that oversee our continuing care system. Friends of Medicare, seniors’ advocates, and seniors’ care experts have, for decades, called for meaningful action to address the problems that have long plagued our continuing care system. Yet the Alberta government has repeatedly prioritized the interests of private, for-profit care operators over those of seniors and their families.
MARCH 28, 2022: MORE ATTACKS ON AB HEALTH CARE WORKERS
Over the weekend, Albertans learned that AUPE General Support Services members received an insulting package of bargaining proposals, including four years of 0% wage increases, as well as a variety of rollbacks to their collective agreement. Just weeks after the government boasted about balancing the budget at the expense of our public services, they are forging ahead with their short-sighted austerity agenda by undermining front-line staff in an already overstretched health care system.
MARCH 22, 2022: FEDERAL CONFIDENCE & SUPPLY AGREEMENT
Today’s Confidence and Supply Agreement between the federal Liberal and New Democrat parties has put the health of people’s teeth, the cost of medication, better long-term care, and the future of our health care system at the centre of discussion and focus. Moving forward, the details and follow-through of this agreement will matter, adn health advocates will be watching closely to ensure that the details of this agreement are fulfilled in a robust and timely manner.
MARCH 15, 2022: GOV’T CONTINUES TO IGNORE DRUG POISONING CRISIS
Despite 2021 being Alberta's deadliest year yet for fatal drug poisoning, today’s post-budget government release on their model for addiction and mental health continues to ignore the vital importance of harm reduction. The government talks about a ‘recovery-oriented system of care,’ but as advocates continue to reiterate, there can be no recovery for those who need it if they are no longer alive to access treatment.
The government continues to double down on their abstinence-only approach, following decisions to implement restrictive ID requirements for those accessing supervised consumption services.
MARCH 14, 2022: HEALTH CARE WAGE ROLLBACKS
In bargaining with the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the UCP government has proposed wage rollbacks for front-line health care workers—some as high as 11%. Understaffing and staff retention are growing issues in health care: our EMS system is experiencing steady red alerts, and health care facilities across the province continue to announce closures due to staffing shortages.
Alberta needs government leadership to train, recruit and retain the health care workers we urgently need, and a workforce plan to prepare us for the years ahead. Yet just like our health care system, Alberta’s universities, colleges, and post-secondary institutions have been under attack and experiencing deep cuts since the UCP government took power.
MARCH 3, 2022: FURTHER PRIVATIZATION OF CONTINUING CARE
The Alberta government announced their latest expenditures in our continuing care system. Unsurprisingly, as per the recommendations made in the Facility-Based Continuing Care review, funding will be allocated to further privatize seniors’ care in Alberta. The government is also opting to focus on home care expansion, but unfortunately, the vast majority of home care in Alberta is already under contract to private providers, who employ a precarious workforce of underpaid and often undertrained care workers. Alberta is experiencing chronic staffing shortages throughout our health care system, which have gone largely unaddressed by this government, and home care is no exception.
FEBRUARY 24, 2022: BUDGET 2022
Further privatization in health care was the predictable theme of the 2022 provincial budget. Friends of Medicare and others have already spoken at length about the problems with their Alberta Surgical Initiative, and the recommendations made in the Facility-Based Continuing Care Review, which are to shape their impending Continuing Care Act.
Glaringly omitted from this budget was any mention of the ongoing and worsening drug poisoning crisis, or any new plans for addressing it. And in spite of promises of “historic investments” and increasing health care capacity, the majority of funding increases are being put towards long-term infrastructure projects. While expansion and improvement have been long-needed in communities such as Red Deer, Albertans have seen endless promises, especially leading up to election time, that too often fail to materialize.
FEBRUARY 22, 2022: 2022 THRONE SPEECH
This year’s Speech from the Throne promised disappointingly little in terms of protecting and improving Alberta’s public health care, and provided no indication as to how the government plans to repair the damage that their approach to COVID-19 has wreaked on our health care system. The Throne Speech focused on the government’s aim to increase our health care capacity, but provided no solutions besides continued privatization. Nor did it provide any acknowledgement of the government’s role in undermining and overwhelming our health care system throughout the past two years of this pandemic. Moreover, the Throne Speech made clear the government’s intention to privatize our health care, including greatly expanding chartered surgical services by accelerating the Alberta Surgical Initiative, and upcoming plans to table the Continuing Care Amendment Act in order to implement recommendations made in the Facility-Based Continuing Care Review.
FEBRUARY 8, 2022: REMOVAL OF PUBLIC HEALTH MEASURES
Today, Premier Jason Kenney revealed via Tweet that he will be announcing his government’s plan to lift Alberta’s public health measures. Last summer the government tried a similar approach, leaving Albertans needlessly vulnerable. Kenney says the decision to lift measures will be contingent on declining hospital numbers, but as it stands, there are still more COVID-infected people in Alberta hospitals than ever before in the pandemic. Research from the University of Toronto shows that Alberta has higher rates of excess mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic than any other province.
FEBRUARY 4, 2022: HOSPITAL PROTESTS
While our front-line health care workers have spent the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic going above and beyond, keeping our public health care system going, and protecting Albertans, protests have been escalating around our hospitals and medical facilities.
FEBRUARY 3, 2022: COUNCIL OF FEDERATION
The 13 provincial and territorial premiers met with the Prime Minister, in a united push for an increase in the Canada Health Transfer that the Federal government provides. Over the past two years, many of the premiers have used the ongoing pandemic as a justification to call for an unconditional increase in health funding. Any increase in health transfers cannot be handed to provinces as a blank cheque. There must be strings attached to ensure funding actually goes towards improving our public health care, and is not used to replace current provincial funding or to facilitate further cuts and privatization.
JANUARY 28, 2022: PRIVATIZATION OF LABS
Albertans have learned that our public community medical laboratory services have been sold off to DynaLIFE Medical Labs, a private, for-profit company. The contract is slated to begin July 1, and will impact communities all across the province. The change could impact the jobs of as many as 1,400 laboratory workers – it is unclear what it will mean for workers’ pensions. Albertans need to be assured that their access to health care services won’t be further disrupted by this change. We need to be assured that this won’t lead to another exodus of pathologists like we saw in the 1990s. Privatization will only minimize public oversight over the quality of services, and prioritize profits at the expense of patient care and staff working conditions.
JANUARY 27, 2022: CONTINUING CARE OUTBREAKS
As of January 25, the Government of Alberta COVID-19 Outbreak Tracker shows 110 Long-Term Care Facilities and 195 Supporting Living Facilities with active COVID-19 outbreaks. While the government’s tracker does not show the number of staff or residents impacted in each of these outbreaks, documents obtained by Friends of Medicare show that at least one facility has surpassed 100 positive cases.
The Single-Site Order was implemented in the early stages of the pandemic to limit employees in continuing care homes to a single workplace in order to prevent spread between sites. In early December, the UCP government announced they would be phasing out the Single-Site Order by February 16th, just 3 weeks from today.
JANUARY 24, 2022: EMS PRIVATIZATION
Emergency Medical Services in Alberta have been in crisis for months. Yet while health care workers, unions, community groups and Albertans have all been raising the alarm bells, the government has let the crisis continue to grow without a plan, until Alberta’s EMS services have reached a breaking point. Today's announcement by the government introducing their "10-point plan" was a far cry from the urgent action that is needed to repair the worsening capacity crisis facing Alberta's EMS. We are concerned that the current crisis in EMS will be used by the government as another excuse to justify their agenda of privatized health care services.
NOVEMBER 23, 2021: FEDERAL THRONE SPEECH
Following today’s Speech from the Throne, Friends of Medicare were disappointed to see an utter lack of movement towards the long-awaited expansion and much-needed improvement of our health care system. Particularly, we saw little direction as it pertains to the implementation of universal Pharmacare, taking profits out of Long-Term Care, and investing in better and public mental health care. We had also hoped to see an indication of a permanent fix to Employment Insurance by ensuring that paid sick days for all workers is the rule and not the exemption.
Without taking the necessary steps to protect the health of Canadians, and to strengthen the universality of our public health care system, our pandemic recovery will continue to be prolonged, and our health care system will remain vulnerable to this, and future crises. There cannot be a healthy and just recovery that does not include the urgent work that needs to be done to repair the damage that COVID-19 has been allowed to wreak on our public health care system.
NOVEMBER 4, 2021: DRS WARN AGAINST LIFTING PRECAUTIONS PREMATURELY
Alberta doctors and health experts with Protect Our Province (POP) are warning that lifting restrictions too early could lead to a fifth wave of COVID-19. They say that following previous waves, the province has reopened and dropped public health precautions too early, and are urging the province to learn from previous mistakes to prevent a further surge in cases.
Albertans are tired of the health and safety of their families and communities being jeopardized on the basis of ideology. Hopefully this time the Alberta government will learn its lesson and finally listen to health experts to protect Albertans and our vital public health care system.
OCTOBER 27, 2021: UCP APPROVAL RATING DROPS
According to a recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute, only one in five Albertans support the provincial government’s actions when it comes to health care. The same number of respondents, 20%, said they believed the government has done a good job handling the pandemic. This is by far the poorest rating of any province, the next worse response being from Saskatchewan, at 32%. These results show unsurprisingly that Albertans deeply value their public health care, and don't appreciate it being cut, privatized and under-resourced!
OCTOBER 27, 2021: EMS OVERSTRETCHED
The Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the union that represents paramedics, continues to sound the alarm over the state of ambulance services in the province. The union has been tracking alerts and ambulance availability, and says that Alberta now regularly sees hours-long stretches during which no ambulances are available to respond to calls. In a Facebook post, they reported that in the last 50 days the province saw 135 red alerts in 12 communities, and that there were 52 times when response times exceeded 30 minutes, and 22 times when the response time exceeded 60 minutes.
OCTOBER 22, 2021: CONTACT TRACER SHORTAGE
Alberta’s contact tracers now say they are working without the support they once had, and are no longer able to provide the kinds of investigation that could make a real difference in tracking and intervening in the spread of the virus. Since August, when hundreds of contact tracers were laid off before Alberta's worst COVID-19 wave, and the province stopped notifying close contacts, instead investigating only “high-risk settings,” the province has been left with insufficient contact tracing services. Because of the government's obstinant insistence that the pandemic was ending, Albertans are suffering yet another instance of ideology trumping what's best for patients in this province's pandemic response.
OCTOBER 15, 2021: KENNEY VACATION
While Alberta was in the midst of a worsening fourth wave, the premier was on a weeks-long vacation. Although Premier Kenney said he was in constant contact with his government throughout his vacation, CTV has uncovered his professional calendar which says otherwise. During the 19 days he was away, his calendar shows just two meetings labelled “Weekly COVID Update.” While Albertans were dying, ICUs were dangerously overcapacity, and HCWs were having their own vacations cancelled, our "leadership" effectively abandoned the province.
OCTOBER 8, 2021: 2021 OVERDOSE DEATHS
As per the latest provincial data, opioid-related overdose deaths let up somewhat over the summer months. However, the year remains record-breaking, as 2021 continues to be the most lethal ever. The drop in fatalities has been attributed to better access to personal naloxone kits and supervised consumption site usage. Advocates and experts continue to call for increased social supports and evidence-based harm reduction services, including supervised consumption services to curb still mounting deaths.
OCTOBER 6, 2021: LETHBRIDGE SENIORS’ CARE WORKERS PROTEST
Care workers at the Extendicare Fairmont Park in Lethbridge held an information picket today to protest cuts and demand better conditions for workers and residents. Their employer—one of the largest private, for-profit seniors' care operators in Canada—is trying to cut health benefits and sick time in the midst of the worst health crisis in the country’s history, compromising the present and long-term health and safety of staff and residents.
OCTOBER 5, 2021: UCP TAKES ANOTHER STEP TOWARDS PRIVATIZATION
Alberta’s new Health Minister Jason Copping has repeatedly stated his plans to permanently expand the province’s hospital capacity, in light of overwhelmed ICUs as a result of Alberta’s preventable 4th wave. Unsurprisingly, Premier Kenney has since confirmed that his government intends to do so by expanding publicly funded private care.
OCTOBER 4, 2021: ER DRS INVITE GOVERNMENT TO ICU
Emergency room physicians have sent an “urgent” invitation to Alberta’s premier and health minister, encouraging them to visit an ICU so they can see firsthand exactly what health care workers and patients have been enduring as a result of their intentional fourth wave. Both the premier and health minister have declined the offer, claiming that it “may not be appropriate.”
OCTOBER 1, 2021: AB DEATH COUNT
In the last two weeks, 192 Albertans have died of COVID-19—more than Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Manitoba, Ontario and the Northwest Territories combined. In fact, September 2021 was the province’s third deadliest month of the entire pandemic. In the few months since Alberta made the unprecedented move to remove all COVID-19 public health measures, nearly 500 Albertans have died. Despite this horrific toll, the government has remained resistant to all of the advice of medical experts and health care workers, and done little to prevent the spread or to protect our public health care system. An utter lack of leadership throughout this pandemic, and especially leading up to this devastating fourth wave has meant that at one-tenth of Canada’s population, Alberta currently has nearly half of all the country’s active COVID-19 cases, and our death rate is over three times the nationwide rate.
SEPTEMBER 30, 2021: MILITARY HELP FOR AB
Today, the government announced that the Priorities Implementation Cabinet Committee (PICC) will now require proof of vaccination or negative testing for Alberta’s 25,000 public services employees. Also announced today is that Alberta will be receiving aid in the form of up to 10 ICU-trained staff from the Canadian Armed Forces, up to 20 ICU-trained staff with various levels of training from the Canadian Red Cross, and five to six ICU-trained staff from Newfoundland and Labrador. This help is to be accepted “as soon as possible,” contrary to news stories from just two days ago that Kenney had refused offers for help from the Canadian Military and from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, deferring aid until at least mid-October when he expected that we would reach the peak of our health capacity.
Despite the preventable crisis Alberta now finds itself in, and despite calls from countless health care workers and various organizations for a fire break, the province still refuses to consider any additional measures.
SEPTEMBER 28, 2021: UCP MLA TARGETS AHS
In two Facebook posts that have since been deleted, UCP MLA Shane Getson pointedly called into question AHS’ COVID-19 response, claiming “we need to be getting more bang for our buck when it comes to resource planning.” Getson conveniently ignored the fact that AHS policies, and legislation that guide the delivery of our health care, sit squarely in the hands of the government of the day. Also ignored was his own government’s role in this crisis, as AHS has effectively been left to pick up the pieces of our health care system following destructive policy decisions from the provincial government in spite of all medical advice.
SEPTEMBER 22, 2021: DRS CALL FOR ARENA CLOSURES
More than a dozen Alberta infectious disease and critical care doctors are calling on the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers stop playing games in fully packed arenas. Alberta’s provincial government has all but abdicated its responsibility to protect the people in this province, or our health care system, leaving policy decisions up to individual businesses. While the teams say they have safety protocols in place, we are facing potentially the worst health care crisis in the province’s history, prompting doctors’ calls for teams to move back to audience-less games.
SEPTEMBER 21, 2021: CABINET SHUFFLE
Today, the Alberta government saw its second cabinet shuffle in less than three months, trading the ministries of Tyler Shandro (previously: Health, now: Labour and Immigration) and Jason Copping (previously: Labour and Immigration, now: Health). While Friends of Medicare has been calling for Minister Shandro’s resignation for some time now, the new Minister’s track record is of concern: During the UCP’s 2020 convention, Copping’s own Calgary-Varsity Constituency Association submitted Policy 11, calling on the Government of Alberta to “support the option of a privately-funded and privately-managed healthcare system.” And in November 2020, Copping, as Minister of Labour and Immigration, introduced Bill 47: the Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act, legislation which ultimately significantly limits workplace safety protections, and strips workers of their right to PTSD presumptive coverage.
We are also concerned about the timing on the part of Premier Kenney. We hope that this cabinet shuffle does not serve as a means to deflect some of his responsibility for our current health crisis that has been precipitated by his ongoing lack of leadership.
SEPTEMBER 21, 2021: FEDERAL AID
Municipal Affairs Minister Rick McIver has sent a letter to the federal government requesting aero-medical evacuation capability to air-lift patients out of Alberta, as well as ICU nurses and respiratory therapists. Notably, while Ottawa offered help last week, and despite the dire and worsening state of our hospital capacity, this letter was not sent until after the federal election—the timing of this decision was not lost on Albertans.
SEPTEMBER 19, 2021: VACCINE CARDS
Printable immunization record cards were made available to Albertans today, but as people quickly learned, the cards were easily editable and thus falsifiable. The cards still have no QR codes, and the alternative, the MyHealthRecords app, still has hours-long wait times for access. Meanwhile, other provinces, such as Manitoba, have had scannable, plastic, wallet-sized cards available for weeks.
SEPTEMBER 17, 2021: NURSES’ NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION
Nurses across Canada held a National Day of Action to protest the lack of action from our governments in addressing our critical nursing shortage, and to demand urgent improvements to our health care system. At both in-person and virtual actions across the country, Canadians stood in solidarity with nurses in calling for safe work, fair contracts and sufficient staffing to give patients the care they deserve.
SEPTEMBER 15, 2021: “RESTRICTION EXEMPTION PROGRAM”
After months of rejecting the premise of a vaccine passport and dodging questions from reporters, Premier Jason Kenney has announced that starting September 20, Alberta would be implementing a “Restriction Exemption Program.” Businesses will be able to opt to require proof of vaccination or a negative test from their patrons, or instead adhere to capacity and operating restrictions. QR codes, like those already implemented in other provinces as proof of vaccination status, are not yet available to Albertans. Further, Albertans have reported that the province’s MyHealthRecords app was so backed up, people would have to wait for hours to access it.
These changes came alongside the declaration of a state of public health emergency, as they estimate Alberta’s hospitals could run out of staff and ICU beds within 10 days. An additional host of other measures have also been implemented, though as complex and difficult to navigate as ever.
SEPTEMBER 10, 2021: HEALTH CARE SYSTEM CAPACITY
Yesterday’s announcement from Health Minister Tyler Shandro regarding our health care system capacity failed to introduce any new public health measures to address the growing number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the province. Instead, the government indicated that they are attempting to alleviate the critical pressure on our health care system capacity by: 1) Cancelling and delaying surgeries—about which we have already been hearing stories as to how surgery postponements are having life-altering impacts on Albertans; and 2) Handing an additional $36 million over to private, contracted home care agencies over the next two years.
Rather than continuously attempting to solve our health care issues by throwing ever more money at the private sector, the government must immediately reinstate the following: Notification of COVID-positive cases to schools; Province-wide contact tracing; and, Testing of asymptomatic and close contact cases
SEPTEMBER 8, 2021: NEW NURSES PROPOSAL
While the government’s latest proposal in the ongoing negotiations with the United Nurses of Alberta rescinds their previous plans to cut wages by three percent, they continue to undermine nurses’ value by rolling back compensation through other areas of their collective agreement, in what would amount to an immediate pay cut of two percent for Alberta's nurses.
Meanwhile, the government has shown they have no concerns with paying contracted agencies —who will undoubtedly take a cut—for hiring out-of-province nurses under temporary contracts with pay far exceeding what they have offered Alberta nurses in negotiations. Nursing has long been plagued by short staffing, jeopardizing worker and patient safety, and COVID-19 has since exacerbated long-standing problems. Alberta is long overdue for a long-term staffing strategy, but instead, the government is pursuing short-sighted, expensive ploys—all while trying to convince us we can't afford to pay our nurses what they deserve.
SEPTEMBER 3, 2021: MASK MANDATE REINSTATED
In their first public appearance in weeks, Kenney, Hinshaw and Shandro have (finally) announced they would be once again implementing mandatory masking in indoor public spaces beginning September 4. Additionally, they have limited the sale of liquor to before 10 pm and are offering $100 to people who get newly vaccinated from COVID-19, at an estimated cost of $20 million to the province. Alberta ICUs are nearly at full capacity, and health care workers, advocates and experts are critical of the impact of these meagre measures. But Kenney says he wants to “avoid at all costs” the decision to implement any additional province-wide restrictions.
SEPTEMBER 1, 2021: AB LEADERSHIP MIA
Friends of Medicare are calling for Alberta’s missing Premier, Health Minister, and Chief Medical Officer of Health to show up to work, do their jobs and take much-needed action to save lives and our health care system. In the weeks-long absence of Kenney, Shandro, and Hinshaw from media scrutiny, Alberta’s 4th wave has worsened, more people are dying of COVID-19, and our hospital wards and intensive care units are buckling under the strain. Our leadership must: provide a clear mitigation plan; Reinstate and expand contact tracing; Reinstate a provincial mask mandate; implement a vaccine outreach plan to improve access, and; apologize to Albertans for making reckless policy decisions at our expense.
SEPTEMBER 1, 2021: EMS FUNDING
The province has committed $8.3 million in new funding in an attempt to stabilize EMS staffing by turning 70 casual positions into temporary full-time positions and continuing to fund 30 existing full-time positions in Edmonton and Calgary. Importantly, however, as the Health Sciences Association of Alberta has pointed out, this funding does not add any new paramedics to our already overstretched system.
AUGUST 31, 2021: HARM REDUCTION
Albertans for Ethical Drug Policy, a coalition of which Friends of Medicare is a part, called on the government to stop their unjust assault on harm reduction services in the province. The joint statement addressed the closures of several supervised consumption sites, and the government’s steadfast refusal to implement evidence-based harm reduction services, and called for urgent action to support harm reduction initiatives in the province. Alberta has seen a staggering increase in overdose deaths over the past two years, which the government continues to refuse to change course or take accountability for.
AUGUST 23, 2021: ER DRS CALL FOR ACTION
Emergency doctors have written a letter to the AHS’ CEO and President, Dr. Verna Yiu, calling for action to address Alberta’s overwhelmed and understaffed emergency rooms. Dr. Yiu previously stated that there was “no bed shortage in Alberta,” in response to public anecdotes from health care workers being shared on social media about shortages in their workplaces. Dozens of surgeries have already been cancelled to increase ICU capacity, and doctors anticipate further cancellations as COVID cases continue to surge.
AUGUST 21, 2021: MULTI-PERSON CARE ROOMS CLOSING
Alberta Health has made “significant progress” in reducing the number of multi-resident rooms in continuing care facilities, and are no longer admitting residents into shared rooms that already have two residents. While this is a necessary step to mitigate infection in residential facilities, they are moving away from ward rooms without addressing affordability barriers for residents, which are only poised to worsen in coming years.
Phasing out shared rooms is an overdue measure that advocates have long called for. But this step, and the other recommendations made in the government's facility-based continuing care review, do nothing to alleviate the major cost burdens on seniors and their families and are not nearly enough to improve care and working conditions in these facilities.
AUGUST 20, 2021: HARM REDUCTIONS ADVOCATES LAUNCH LAWSUIT
Alberta harm reduction advocacy organizations, Moms Stop the Harm and the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society, have filed a lawsuit against the provincial government, in response to the spike in overdose deaths following changes to regulations for supervised consumption sites back in June. They argue that new regulations for supervised consumption sites being imposed by the Alberta government will increase barriers to accessing harm reduction services, and breach Albertans’ Charter Rights. The groups have asked that the new regulations be suspended while the lawsuit is underway.
AUGUST 19, 2021: HEALTH COALITIONS DEMAND LTC ACTION FROM FEDERAL PARTIES
With a federal election impending, provincial Health Coalitions across Canada have come together to put all federal parties on notice, with the expectation that parties commit to bringing in national standards for long-term care as a matter of national priority. More than 14,000 long-term care and retirement home residents and staff died in the first two waves of the pandemic and more than 80,000 residents and staff have been infected in the pandemic to date. Canada’s record is staggering, much worse than our international peer nations, underscoring that the horrific toll of death and suffering in Canada’s long-term care was preventable.
AUGUST 16, 2021: CONTRACT NURSING
AHS is contemplating plans to address nursing shortages by hiring contract nurses at $55-$75 an hour—compared to $36.86-$48.37 per hour earned by AHS nurses currently. Importantly, hiring agencies typically charge employers for the services they provide. With this in mind, Albertans should be asking how much the government is willing to pay in order to undermine bargaining and to undercut the value we place on the work that nurses do on our behalf.
AHS is in ongoing negotiations with United Nurses of Alberta, and has proposed a 3% pay cut for the nurses it employs, which the UCP government has claimed is necessary in order to get Alberta’s finances “back on track.” As Alberta’s health care workers have been saying all along: the ongoing disputes with the government have never been solely about money, but about the government’s unwillingness to give front-line workers the respect they deserve.
AUGUST 13, 2021: PUBLIC HEALTH MEASURES REINSTATED
Following 15 straight days of protesting the government’s reckless decision to remove Alberta’s most basic and necessary COVID-19 protections, the government has finally taken notice, and moved to “pause” the removal of these protections for at least 6 weeks, until September 27. The province’s testing assessment centres will remain open, and testing will no longer be offloaded onto unprepared family physicians and the province’s already overstretched emergency departments. Additionally, existing contact tracing will be continued, as will mandatory isolation requirements for COVID-positive Albertans. More is needed to curb the worsening spread, however, these are important initial steps, and this victory cannot be understated.
AUGUST 12, 2021: AHS BOARD APPOINTMENTS
On August 10, Alberta Health Services announced that Hartley R. Harris had become their newest board member. Harris is an electrical engineer with no health care background, and, as per a recent story from independent journalist Kim Siever, is concerningly well-known to Health Minister Shandro. Harris was the Chief Financial Officer for Shandro’s 2019 campaign and was a financial supporter. Previously in the summer, we saw another troubling appointment to the AHS board: Jack Mintz. Mr. Mintz was previously appointed chair of the government’s “expert panel,” and is also affiliated with Rapid Test & Trace (a company that provides private COVID-19 testing), Ernst & Young, and the Fraser Institute. The latter two organizations have been central to the government’s plans to privatize our health care.
The AHS board is directly accountable to the Minister of Health and is responsible for the governance of AHS. The appointments of privatization ideologues to the board will only serve to further erode Albertans’ trust in the government’s commitment to our public health care,
AUGUST 11, 2021: AB NURSES DAY OF ACTION
On August 11, Alberta nurses held a Day of Action, with information pickets at hospitals and health facilities across the province. The nurses were calling attention to the staffing shortages facing the province, resulting in bed closures, worker burnout, and jeopardizing patient care. Friends of Medicare joined hundreds of other Albertans in solidarity to show their support for nurses and their colleagues and standing up against the government’s continuous attempts to undermine and undervalue their integral work.
AUGUST 6, 2021: CALGARY STAMPEDE COVID SPREAD
Despite rapid testing onsite and continuous assertions from government and event officials that all precautions were being followed, at least 129 Albertans contracted COVID-19 at the Calgary Stampede. Despite medical experts warning it was too soon, the government opted to move ahead with a major event while only 57% of Albertans are fully vaccinated (lagging far behind other provinces), and while our COVID—and particularly Delta variant—rates are by far the highest in the country.
In spite of this damning evidence, the government wants to do away with our most basic public health precautions, including isolation requirements, timely testing and the contact tracing that told us where these infections occurred—again despite all medical evidence showing it's too soon.
AUGUST 3, 2021: ALBERTA PROTESTS GOVERNMENT REMOVAL OF COVID MEASURES
For the past 4 days, Albertans have been coming together to say Enough is Enough! Ongoing protests have been held each day in Calgary and Edmonton against this government’s reckless decision to end the most basic public health measures, including closing testing centres, phasing out contact tracing, and removing isolation requirements for people who test positive for COVID-19.
Alberta’s doctors have called the decision to lift public health measures “completely inexcusable,” especially given the timing, while cases are spreading faster than during the third wave, while Alberta’s vaccination rates are second poorest in the country, and while children will be returning to school in less than a month despite those under 12 years old still yet ineligible to be vaccinated.
JULY 29, 2021: LTC WORKERS RALLY
Friends of Medicare stood alongside workers from Capital Care and Carewest, protesting the expected sale of Alberta’s two public long-term care providers. The 3000 workers at these facilities are at risk of losing their jobs if the providers are sold and privatized, as was recommended by EY in their AHS performance review. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic having exacerbated existing problems in the country’s LTC system, the government is doubling down on their plans to further privatize Alberta’s continuing care. The privatization of these facilities means turning vulnerable Albertans-seniors, veterans and the chronically ill into commodities from which these private seniors care corporations can profit.
JULY 28, 2021: REMOVAL OF LAST PUBLIC HEALTH MEASURES
The government has opted to remove the last of Alberta’s COVID-19 public health measures, including requirements for mandatory testing, masking and isolation, and ending the availability of centralized provincial COVID testing. According to Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province will be changing its COVID-19 public health response from pandemic to endemic, handling COVID-19 like it handles other respiratory viruses. This is another unprecedented move from a government, and Alberta’s doctors say this decision goes “against all basic principles of public health,” and are warning that it will certainly have dire reprecussons on Albertans, and particularly children.
JULY 9, 2021: CONTINUING CARE BEDS
Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the allocation of $400 million in operational funding over four years, for 6,000 continuing care beds across the province. 2,200 will be new beds, and the remainder will be renovated from existing “underutilized” spaces in private facilities. The renovation is to be paid for by operators, but of concern is the recommendation made in the government’s Facility-Based Continuing Care review which would allow operators to freely increase accommodation fees as they see fit, effectively passing any costs onto seniors and their families.
Moreover, there was no mention of the levels of care that the announced beds will provide. The need for higher levels of care is well documented, yet there was no indication as to how this approach is intended to address these needs.
JULY 8, 2021: CABINET SHUFFLE
Friends of Medicare had hoped to see a change to the Health Minister in today’s cabinet shuffle. However, we saw changes to the Ministry of Community and Social Services, from Rajan Sawhney to Jason Luan. We’ll be interested to see whether cuts to AISH and disability care homes remain shelved, or which other programs will now be considered expendable under the direction of the new minister. Especially as Luan has shown he’s someone who takes a hard line when it comes to policy impacting the lives of vulnerable Albertans, in spite of both public opinion or mounting numbers of lives lost as a result of ideological drug policy.
The Associate Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions also changed, from Jason Luan to Mike Ellis. Albertans for Ethical Drug Policy recently called for Luan’s removal, but seeing as Luan’s new role as Minister of Community and Social Services will involve decisions that impact many of the same vulnerable Albertans, their families and communities, this move is far from what advocates had been demanding. Also worth noting is that Mike Ellis was formerly a police sergeant with the Calgary Police Service. Mental health and addictions must to be approached as the health care issues that they are, not ones requiring additional policing. We hope that Minister Ellis will put evidence, and the lives of vulnerable Albertans first as he takes on his new cabinet work.
JULY 6, 2021: NURSES’ WAGES CUT
Yesterday, Finance Minister Travis Toews announced that the government would be moving forward with plans to cut salaries of Alberta’s nurses. The newly proposed 3% salary rollback comes in addition to previously announced rollbacks, in the form of reduced shift and weekend premiums. All together, Alberta’s nurses are facing at least 5% compensation reduction. Simply stated, the government's plan to put the finances “back on track” comes at the expense of Alberta’ nurses and other public sector workers.
Many areas of our health care system have yet to recover from the toll of this pandemic, and health care facilities across the province have announced closures due to staffing shortages. It’s clear that what Alberta needs most in this challenging time is a resilient workforce that can see our health care system through the work that lays ahead. Instead, this government is attacking frontline workers that our province relies on.
JULY 6, 2021: AMBULATORY PATIENTS DIVERTED
A "new plan" from the Ministry of Health will allow paramedics to choose whether to bring patients to emergency rooms or other care facilities, saying diverting patients will reduce delays. But according to Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the union that represents EMS in the province, this plan does little to address the ongoing ambulance shortage in the province, which they explain is the real underlying cause of the existing burden on emergency departments.
JULY 5, 2021: ROCKY MOUNTAIN HOUSE BED CLOSURE
Due to the ongoing nursing shortage, six acute care beds have been temporarily closed at Rocky Mountain House hospital. Again. They are expected to be closed for up to an entire month. Alberta Health Services has called the decision “a last resort,” though they have also said patient care will not be affected.
JULY 4, 2021: STRAINED EMS
During Alberta’s historic heat wave, Edmonton and Calgary’s emergency services saw extremely high demand due to an influx of heat-related calls, resulting in emergency department waits of up to six hours. This compounded the province’s ongoing staffing shortage for health care workers, who are “facing an all-time low” according to Alberta nurses. As the threat posed by climate change worsens, the resiliency of our health care system will become of greater importance.
JULY 1, 2021: AB DROPS ALL RESTRICTIONS
Premier Kenney promises Albertans the “best summer ever,” and drops all of the province’s COVID-19 public health restrictions. The province is the first jurisdiction in North America to make such a move, and critics are already calling it a reckless gamble with Albertans’ health and safety.
JUNE 26, 2021: GLOBAL DAY OF ACTION AGAINST OPPRESSIVE DRUG POLICY
Albertans came together for a YYC Day of Action to commemorate and remember the lives that have been lost as a result of the ongoing overdose epidemic, and to protest the closure of Calgary’s supervised consumption site. Albertans for Ethical Drug Policy, business owners and community members marked this occasion with the release of a joint statement, to renew our calls to stop the unjust assault on harm reduction services. Harm reduction, including supervised consumption services (SCS) not only save lives, but they also help to keep people healthy, connect them with services, and ultimately saves money for the health system.
JUNE 17: BILL 70 PASSED
On June 17, the government passed Bill 70: COVID-19 Related Measures Act. The bill provides health facilities, including private, for profit continuing care operators, legal protection against lawsuits from residents and families over illness or death due to exposure to COVID-19. The primary entities that benefit from this policy decision are private, for-profit continuing care companies. This bill in no way serves the public interest, or the interest of those Albertans who tragically died potentially preventable deaths in a system more focused on profit than on the lives of the most vulnerable in our society.The bill mirrors those being passed across Canada, described by lawyers as a “licence to kill.”
JUNE 15, 2021: DOCTOR SHORTAGE
Southern Albertans are struggling to find doctors amid clinics struggling to replace an increasing number of doctors leaving the province. As we (hopefully) near the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alberta's wasting no time stepping into our next major health care crisis.
► See a list of communities that are losing doctor care (via Kim Siever)
JUNE 11, 2021: ANTI-RACISM ADVISORY COUNCIL CONDEMNS HEALTH CARE CUTS
A new report from Alberta's anti-racism advisory council shows health care layoffs will disproportionately target women of colour and newcomers. They're joining organizations and individuals across the province in calling on the government to reverse the layoffs, and “protect the racialized workers who will be adversely impacted, economically and socially, by these layoffs.”
JUNE 9, 2021: OVERDOSE RESPONSE
The Alberta government is committing $1.5 million on a one-year naloxone pilot project in Edmonton, to purchase 7,500 doses of nasally administered naloxone, as well as training and distribution. They are also spending $2.1 million over three years to fund 8 new, and 27 upgraded medical detox beds at the George Spady centre in Edmonton. Critics say this total $3.6 million in funding would have a bigger impact put towards proven harm reduction measures, and establishing a coordinated province-wide response.
JUNE 7, 2021: NEW SCS RESEARCH
New research from the University of Alberta found a “statistically significant association” between increased visits to supervised consumption services and a decrease in overdose deaths. SCSs not only provide medical care to reverse overdoses that occur at the sites, they provide additional services including the distribution of naloxone kits (overdose reversal medication), and have made thousands of referrals to addictions treatment, as well as other social programs and medical supports. Provincial data shows 186 people died from opioid related overdoses between January and March.
Meanwhile, since Lethbridge's only supervised consumption site was forced to close, overdose hospitalizations and deaths in the city have reached record highs. The 2020-21 death count is more than double the previous average.
JUNE 4, 2021: CONTINUED ER CLOSURES
AHS has announced closures of emergency department beds in rural communities across Alberta through the end of August, due to staffing shortages. Communities facing department closures include Edson, St. Paurl, Boyle, Elk Point, Rocky Mountain House and Fairview. While Health Minister Shandro has blamed staffing shortages on summer vacations, the United Nurses of Alberta have publicly disputed this claim, saying instead that the issue is unfilled nurse vacancies within AHS.
JUNE 3, 2021: BARRIERS TO SCS
The government has created new operating rules for supervised consumption sites, requiring them to have nearby businesses agree to a “good neighbourhood plan,” get police approval for emergency response plans, and ask clients for Alberta health numbers. Experts say these additional barriers to harm reduction services will deter vulnerable clients from accessing life-saving services. As it stands, an average of 4 people are dying per day in Alberta, the highest overdose rates on record.
JUNE 2, 2021: MINTZ APPOINTED TO AHS
The government has appointed Jack Mintz to the board of Alberta Health Services. Mintz was previously appointed chair of the government’s “expert panel,” tasked with coming up with ideas to respond to low oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, he is the National Policy Advisory for Ernst & Young (EY), the company that the Alberta government paid $2 million to recommend sweeping privatization of our health care system. EY has also since become Alberta’s “Health Contracting Secretariat,” a new office which will be used to build internal markets for outsourcing (aka privatizing) various parts of our health care system—a recommendation that they themselves made in their initial report. Mintz is also a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute—the 'think tank' that informed both the Ernst & Young and Mackinnon reports... both of which recommended the further privatization for our health care. Notably, in their landmark Cambie Case ruling, the BC supreme court said: “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).” As he is fundamentally opposed to universal public health care, his appointment to the AHS board is incredibly troubling.
JUNE 1, 2021: GOVT IGNORES RESTRICTIONS
Several UCP members, including Premier Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro, were spotted eating and drinking alcohol together at the Sky Palace balcony of the Federal Building, prompting concerns from Albertans about the government breaking COVID-19 public health orders that they themselves put in place. While Kenney was initially adamant that no rules were broken—despite photographic evidence—he apologized publicly just days later, in his first public appearance since the photos appeared in newspapers.
MAY 31, 2021: FACILITY BASED CONTINUING CARE REVIEW
The Minister of Health and MLA Richard Gotfried announced the release of the final report of the Facility Based Continuing (FBCC) Review, intended to serve as a reference for the impending legislative review which will see the consolidation of 15 pieces of current legislation that oversee our current continuing care system. As one might expect from an accounting company tasked with reviewing public health policy, the report’s focus is on ways in which savings could be achieved, with little consideration as to the impact these recommendations will have on the care and lives of the people who actually live in these facilities.
Notably, panel chair Richard Gotfried is the same MLA who introduced Bill 70: COVID Related Measures Act, which will ensure legal protection for health services facilities-including continuing care operators who are facing lawsuits over illness or death due to exposure to COVID-19. If passed this bill will prevent families from being able to seek answers and hold care homes responsible for negligence of their loved ones. As well, the FBCC review's final report was released without allowing the media the opportunity to receive a technical briefing that would have enabled them to ask critical questions about its contents, rather than merely regurgitate the government’s narrative. The report was completed over a month prior to releasing it to the public.
MAY 30, 2021: FAILED CONTACT TRACING
Internal AHS documents show the extent of Alberta’s case backlog for contact tracers during Alberta’s second wave. Despite the government assuring Albertans that the province’s contact tracing system remained “robust,” and that additional contact tracers were being hired to keep up with the surging cases, documents indicate this was untrue, and that the province was at times 2,000 staff short of what was needed. Albertans are now left wondering why this was not shared with the public, and how many of the 94,171 reported cases and 1.115 deaths could have been prevented if the government had acted to implement the necessary precautions. Alberta remains short of contact tracers.
MAY 28, 2021: CALGARY SCS CLOSURE
The government is closing Calgary’s Safeworks supervised consumption site at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre. Experts and advocates say that this move is short-sighted and akin to abandonment, especially as it comes during a record breaking overdose rates across the province, and will likely result in more deaths. The government says it will be replaced by two other sites, but has given no indication as to where they will be located, or any organizations they will be affiliated with. Existing agencies in Calgary have confirmed that they have not been approached or won’t house the services.
MAY 26, 2021: AB DOCTORS CALL OUT REOPENING PLANS
Government plans to lift all public health restrictions by early July are under fire from the province’s doctors, who say they’re recklessly putting Albertans at risk of a case spike, especially as variant rates continue to climb. Doctors are concerned that easing public health guidelines too soon could lead to a fourth wave, with major events like the Calgary Stampede serving as super spreader events. Once again, the Alberta government is making policy decisions based on ideology rather than medical evidence.
MAY 14, 2021: ER STAFFING SHORTAGES
Albertans in three rural communities were left without emergency services this week when emergency departments in Fairview, Elk Point and Rocky Mountain House saw temporary closures, citing staffing shortages due to COVID-19.
This is the impact of the government neglecting to take decisive action in the face of COVID-19, nor make much-needed improvements to working conditions in our health care system. We can only hope that this truly was an "exceptional situation", and that ER closures won't become a trend in rural Alberta if doctors continue to leave the province, though a Rocky Mountain House family physician has already said the community is continuing to be impacted by staffing shortages.
MAY 12, 2021: LEGISLATURE SUSPENSION EXTENDED
The UCP government has announced that they will be extending the legislature closure until May 25. The House Speaker Nathan Cooper says the Legislative Assembly Office is working on enabling members to participate remotely—more than 14 months into a pandemic.
MAY 10, 2021: JUSTICE MINISTER
A UCP cabinet minister, Kaycee Madu, Alberta’s justice minister and solicitor general, took to Facebook to claim that the media, the provincial NDP, and the federal government of looking for ”disaster” when it comes to COVID-19’s impact on Alberta and our health care system, saying “our opponents do not want these pandemic and restrictions to end. We cannot afford to fall into their trap.” These statements are not only offensive, they are incredibly dangerous amid growing public resistance to COVID-19 measures.
Madu’s senior press secretary told CTV that “The Minister won’t apologize for stating the obvious." The Minister apologized two days later.
MAY 4, 2021: NEW COVID-19 MEASURES
New public health measures have been announced by the government amid surging COVID-19 case numbers, and a straining health care system. These latest restrictions, as ever, are long overdue, complex, and piecemeal. They are slated to last for three weeks at minimum.
MAY 2, 2021: LEGISLATURE SUSPENDED
The UCP government has suspended the Alberta Legislature spring session to prevent further spread of COVID-19, not due to cases among UCP MLAs or staff, according to House Leader Jason Nixon. But as critics have pointed out, while the government can enjoy a paid break from work, they have yet to enact legislation enabling the rest of Alberta’s workers to do the same. The legislature is not expected to return until May 17.
APRIL 29, 2021: AISH GROWTH LOWEST SINCE 2008
As per reporting from Alberta Community and Social Services, monthly caseload numbers for AISH (Assisted Income for the Severely Handicapped) have flatlined between July 2020 and February 2021, followed by three consecutive months of declines—the first since at least 2008 according to independent reporting from Kim Siever.
In September 2020, the government announced they had reversed proposed AISH cuts that would have impacted 70,000 Albertans, in response to significant public backlash. In his address, Kenney called the AISH program "generous," while AISH recipients are expected to get by on a maximum amount of just $1,685 a month—$20,220 per year, or about $11K less per year than the province's full-time minimum wage earners.
APRIL 27, 2021: LAUNDRY PRIVATIZATION
Following a Request for Proposals by AHS in October 2020, K-Bro Linen has been named the successful bidder for the province-wide laundry services contract. The move is expected to impact the positions of 428 workers. The contract also follows lobbying efforts by K-Bro Linen Systems through 2020 with the Ministry of Health. Notably, contracting out laundry services was recommended by the government-appointed Blue Ribbon Panel, a member of whom is a board member of K-Bro Linen, and the lobbyists all have ties to the UCP government.
Premier Kenney first announced his intentions to privatize Alberta’s hospital laundry services in March 2019, claiming the Saskatchewan government’s laundry outsource to K-Bro Linen Systems would allegedly save them $100 million, despite economists predicting that the loss of employment and income in the province will outstrip any savings, and will cost residents of Saskatchewan $31.5 million over the next 10 years, compared to the best public option. While the privatization of AHS laundry services comes as no surprise, it's a disappointing indication that this government is bent on perpetuating privatization experiments within our public health care.
APRIL 27, 2021: ADVOCATES CALL FOR LTC STANDARDS
On April 27, Friends of Medicare joined provincial and territorial Health Coalitions from across the country, Canadians 4 LTC, advocates, family members, and seniors for a National Day of Action for Long-Term Care Standards, and virtually protested the failure of our federal and provincial governments to set national standards for long-term care.
APRIL 26, 2021: BOYLE STREET SCS CLOSURE
Supervised consumption services will not be returning to Boyle Street Community Services in downtown Edmonton. The site had been closed in the fall and services redirected to the Edmonton Convention Centre, which had temporarily been converted into a shelter and services for Edmontonions experiencing homelessness, but the shelter is closing April 30 and services are not returning to the Boyle Street facility.
Advocates are concerned that this disruption in trusted services will negatively impact clients and their communities, potentially leading to more overdoses and deaths in Edmonton. Additionally, the former director has spoken out about the impact that the loss of wrap-around services provided by the surprised consumption site will have on the surrounding communities.
APRIL 23, 2021: AUDITOR GENERAL REPORT ON CT & MRI SERVICES
The Auditor General’s report, Alberta Health Services Use of Publicly Funded CT & MRI Services, released on April 22nd, shows clearly that AHS has lost control of this important part of our health care system. The recommendations made by the Auditor General made it clear that AHS and government can, if they choose, utilize unused capacity in public hospital operating rooms and diagnostics with proven innovations in the public system.
However, in the Diagnostic Imaging, CT and MRI Implementation Plan introduced by Premier Kenney and Health Minister Shandro in March of this year, we see they are opting to take a different direction with this integral part of our health care, and instead pursue even more privatization in our diagnostic imaging system.
APRIL 22, 2021: BILL 70
Bill 70: COVID-19 Related Measures Act intends to ensure legal protection for health services facilities—including continuing care operators—facing lawsuits over illness or death due to exposure to COVID-19. The bill would make it harder for those who are seeking justice on behalf of those who have been harmed as a result of COVID-19 in long-term care and retirement homes, as well as make it easier for those operators to defend themselves against legal action.
The MLA who tabled the bill, Richard Gotfried, is also the member appointed to chair the government’s Facility-Based Continuing Care (FBCC) Review. The bill follows lobbying from the continuing care sector, who had concerns about maintaining insurance in light of COVID-19 related death and illness among residents.
APRIL 20, 2021: SENIORS ADVOCATE ACT
Bill 215: the Seniors Advocate Act, has been introduced by MLA Lori Sigurdson, critic for Seniors and Housing. An independent seniors advocate, like that in British Columbia, would serve as an independent officer of the legislature to help seniors navigate services, provide policy recommendations to the government, and conduct reviews on service providers to ensure seniors’ needs are met.
While the NDP established a Seniors’ Advocate while in government, in 2019, the position was rolled into the Health Advocate by the UCP government, and the role was appointed to former UCP executive director Janice Harrington. Following the committee's deliberation, Bill 215 has been referred to the legislature for fulsome debate. It is our hope that it will be debated based on its merit rather than partisan politics, and that it will actually be heard during this legislature sitting rather than allowing this important piece of legislation to die on the order paper.
APRIL 21, 2021: CARGILL VACCINE CLINIC DELAYED
The Alberta government has abruptly delayed the planned vaccination clinic at the Cargill meatpacking plant in High River. Though vaccinations for over 2,000 workers was scheduled to begin Thursday, the company was informed Tuesday night that it was being postponed. The facility has already seen two large outbreaks, and doctors say that the sudden delay is “likely to erode the already shaky trust with a workforce that's been devastated by the pandemic.” Importantly, Alberta’s vaccine rollout has been criticized for prioritizing vaccinations based primarily on age rather than other factors such as workplace hotspots, vulnerability, or potential for community transmission.
APRIL 19, 2021: CHARTWELL EXEC BONUSES
While staff and residents in their Chartwell long-term care homes have suffered an agonizing year, Chartwell executives have given themselves 6-figure bonuses. Chartwell is one of the largest private seniors' care operators in Canada, and their board previously rejected a proposal to give frontline workers in their facilities a “living wage.” Though executives have given themselves a 100% rating when it comes to “customer satisfaction,” PressProgress has reported that Chartwell “had some of the highest resident death rates of any LTC provider, nearly a hundred regulatory infractions and a class-action lawsuit over the past year.”
APRIL 13, 2021: OPHTHALMOLOGY PRIVATIZATION
AHS has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for ophthalmological chartered surgical facilities, for a contract expected to be awarded in fall 2021. This move to further privatize Alberta’s ophthalmology services, a sector that is already heavily privatized, follows the recommendation of EY (Ernst & Young), the high-priced accounting/consulting firm contracted by the Alberta government to conduct the performance review of AHS last year. The Health Contacting Secretariat, a new role that was also awarded to EY as of August 2020 (based on their own recommendation), is responsible for overseeing AHS’ RFPs.
Actual figures as to how much will it cost to perform cataract surgeries in the private sector compared to the public has not been shared with Albertans, however a recent similar initiative in Ontario revealed contracted cataract surgeries will cost the province at least 25 per cent more per operation than if they were provided in hospitals.
APRIL 12, 2021: NATIONAL LAB WEEK
Health Minister Tyler Shandro released a statement in recognition of National Laboratory Week, highlighting the role that medical laboratory professionals have played during this pandemic as an integral part of the province’s COVID-19 response. But despite these empty platitudes, the minister and this government continue to move forward with the privatization of our lab services.
Even before being sworn in, this government halted the development of what was to be a new public laboratory, and eventually cancelled the project altogether. More recently, recommendations made by EY as part of their Alberta Health Services Performance Review regarding the privatization of lab services, as well as the firm’s ensuing role as "Health Contracting Secretariat," continues to pave the way for aggressive private corporate imposition on our public health care system. In December 2020, the government issued a Request for Proposals for community lab services, and we are now well on our way to putting this integral part of our health care up for grabs to the highest bidder.
APRIL 8, 2021: NEW PLASMA DONATION CENTRES
On April 8, Canadian Blood Services made the welcome announcement that they will be ramping up voluntary plasma collection with the opening of new plasma donation centres in Brampton & Ottawa. Three other new plasma collection centres have been recently built or are underway in Kelowna, Sudbury and Lethbridge.
Meanwhile, in November 2020, the Alberta government repealed legislation that protected our public blood system from corporate interests, and opened our province to companies that seek to profit from the export of Albertans' blood. Instead of supporting CBS' efforts to expand public, voluntary plasma collection for the benefit of ALL Canadians, Alberta is instead standing in the way and allowing corporate competition to threaten our public supply.
APRIL 8, 2021: DOCTORS CALL FOR CIRCUIT BREAKER
As COVID-19 and variant cases surge, doctors are renewing their call for an urgent circuit breaker lockdown, and stronger enforcement of restrictions. Physicians also called for a two-week emergency lockdown in November 2020, when the second-wave of Alberta’s pandemic was growing.
For more than a year, Alberta's medical experts have been clear about what is needed to stop this pandemic. Yo-yoing public policy and half measure restrictions don't cut it, as now 2,002 Albertans and their surviving loved ones can attest.
APRIL 7, 2021: UCP MLAS REVOLT AGAINST COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS
16 UCP MLAs signed a public letter expressing their opposition to the government’s decision to return the province to Step 1 of their reopening plan amid a spike in COVID-19 numbers. The letter makes no acknowledgement of the rise in COVID-19 and variant infections in the province, but call for restrictions to be lifted anyways, claiming that the impacts of “lockdowns” are “just as bad as the COVID crisis.” To date, 2002 Albertans have died of COVID-19.
APRIL 6, 2021: DOCTOR REP A UCP DONOR & ADVISOR
Following the Minister of Health’s decision to unilaterally tear up the master agreement between the Alberta Medical Association and the province, the AMA established a working group to relay physician concerns to Alberta Health. While doctors have since voted down the proposed new agreement, it has come to light that members of the working group are lobbyists and/or have ties to private interests. One of the people in particular representing Alberta's doctors in their talks is a “trusted advisor” to Premier Kenney, a private health care lobbyist, and UCP donor who has been pushing for the privatization of Alberta's medical labs, diagnostics and hospital laundry services.
MARCH 31, 2021: DOCTORS REFUSE TENTATIVE AGREEMENT
After much online hubbub, Alberta doctors voted to reject the tentative deal offered by the province. Doctors have cited the ongoing tensions between the government and physicians as contributing to a lack of trust as a central factor in doctors’ decision to vote against the proposal, as well as the agreement’s bent towards health care privatization.
MARCH 26, 2021: HEALTH SECRETARIAT
In July 2020, the UCP passed Bill 30: The Health Statutes Amendment Act, provincial legislation that proposes to cut approval times required for private surgical facilities. Shortly after, the government announced their intention to establish a "Health Contracting Secretariat," to build the health care delivery market and reduce barriers to market entry for larger corporate players. The Request For Proposals (RFP) was open for just one month (June 24 - July 24, 2020), and indicated that this secretariat would be used to build internal markets for outsourcing surgeries, primary care, continuing care, diagnostic and virtual care. On August 10, 2020, a contract worth $986,500 was awarded to Ernst & Young (EY) — the same company that the government paid $2 million to tell us that we would find cost savings by privatizing our health care.
MARCH 22, 2021: LTC LEGAL OPINION
On March 22, health coalitions and advocates representing more than a million Canadians came together to demand that the federal government and provinces work together to establish national standards for long-term residential care. The groups released a legal opinion setting out a proposal for a commitment from the federal government to ongoing funding for long-term care with clear criteria requiring the provinces to improve quality, accountability and take profit out of seniors’ care.
MARCH 18, 2021: YEG COUNCILLOR CALLS FOR SAFE SUPPLY
Edmonton City Councillor, Scott McKeen, is calling for the implementation of a safe supply pilot program to address the ongoing overdose crisis impacting Edmonton, to provide medically safe alternatives to individuals suffering addiction and substance abuse, urging governments to prioritize “compassion and science” rather than “old myths” in policy-making. He is also calling to have the crisis declared a national public health emergency, especially as the tragic impacts continue to be exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
MARCH 16, 2021: LTC STANDARDS
Friends of Medicare’s executive director, Sandra Azocar, joined Canadians 4 LTC and some of Canada’s other health coalitions for a live online discussion on the national standards that are urgently needed in our continuing care system. The webinar was one of a series being hosted by Canadians 4 LTC to address the long standing inadequacies in Canada’s long-term care, and to consider the solutions needed to ensure everyone has access to the care they need and deserve.
MARCH 11, 2021: 1 YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF COVID-19
March 11 marked the one year anniversary of the World Health Organization designating COVID-19 a pandemic. Friends of Medicare joined Public Interest Alberta, United Nurses of Alberta, Seniors’ Action & Liaison Team, and Alberta Arts Action, to stand at the Alberta legislature grounds in commemoration of the lives that didn’t need to be lost as a result of COVID-19, and in recognition of the works still yet to be done to ensure this tragedy never happens again.
Behind the speakers were 1928 roses—one for each person we have lost. The flowers were hand painted by Erin Alyward, and colour-coded to reflect the age of each person. As you can see by the number of white, silver and gold flowers, seniors have by far been the worst impacted. Now more than ever, it's clear that Seniors Deserve Better.
MARCH 3, 2021: CONTINUING CARE LEGISLATION
Premier Kenney has announced that new legislation will be coming this fall to overhaul Alberta’s continuing care legislation. We have not yet heard any indication as to whether the legislation currently being sought by private care operators to protect them from legislative protections from COVID-19 lawsuits will be included. Nor whether the government is planning to follow through on recommendations made in the EY performance review of AHS to sell Carewest and Capital Care as a one-time revenue source.
FEBRUARY 26, 2021: iOAT INJUNCTION DISMISSED
A court ruling has upheld a decision by the Government of Alberta to end iOAT at clinics in Calgary and Edmonton by dismissing an injunction application to keep these vital, life-saving services running at those clinics. Earlier, the court heard that individuals suffering from severe opioid use disorder could face “irreparable harms including risk of death” if the government-funded treatment program is halted in March as planned. This included evidence that the Government’s decision to close the clinics has already contributed to severe harm to patients.
The constitutional challenge launched by iOAT patients against the Alberta government is ongoing.
FEBRUARY 25, 2021: BUDGET 2021
While Budget 2021 sees a slight increase in spending in health care for 2021, it is followed by a freeze over the next two years, which does not account for growth to the province’s inflation and population. Further, this funding does not take into account the work that will be required to make up for the delays in health services caused by this pandemic. While the government claims they are increasing health care spending by 4%, a closer look at today’s budget reveals that the brunt of the promised increase to health care spending is to be put towards the province’s contingency COVID-19 fund ($1.2B).
Per Finance Minister Travis Toews’ budget address, the government will be following through on the recommendations of the Ernst and Young (EY) performance review of Alberta Health Services. Those recommendations laid the groundwork for the restructuring of our health care system through aggressive privatization, loss of front line staff, and erosion of public resources—including our public medical laboratory, which has been pivotal in getting us through the pandemic.
FEBRUARY 16, 2021: CPR TO OPEN
A private paid plasma company is set to open sites in both Edmonton and Calgary by the end of the year. While remunerated plasma collection was previously illegal in Alberta, that legislation was recently repealed by Bill 204. As Canadian Blood Services, our public blood agency, does not purchase paid plasma, all plasma collected at these facilities will be exported to international markets. As opposed to voluntary, public donations, which all go to Canadian patients.
FEBRUARY 16, 2021: LTC GROUP LOBBY FOR LEGAL PROTECTIONS
Alberta's continuing care operators are trying to shirk responsibility for their residents by lobbying the Alberta government for legislative protections from COVID-19 lawsuits. The bill they want to see passed would mirror one passed in Ontario last October, requiring families and residents taking legal action over COVID-19 harms to demonstrate gross negligence, rather than ordinary negligence.
Meanwhile, several lawsuits against continuing care operators are already underway, as a result of COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on continuing care facilities.
FEBRUARY 11, 2021: COVID TESTING CONTRACT
As revealed by Progress Alberta, an oil company (Heavoil Tech inc.) turned health care company (Equity Health Services) has won a “significant contract” for COVID-19 testing. Importantly, lobbying records show that the Ministry of Health had been lobbied by Jason Kenney’s former campaign manager, on behalf of Equity Health Services. Moreover, the lobbyist’s son is a current staffer of the ministry of health.
Albertans deserve better than for their health care and pandemic response to be left up to nepotism and back room deals.
FEBRUARY 10, 2021: WAGE TOP-UPS
During a press conference this afternoon, Premier Kenney and Minister of Labour Jason Copping announced that under Alberta’s Critical Worker Benefit 380,000 workers in both the public and private sector will receive a one-time top-up payment of $1200. Though federal funds began flowing to provinces on June 19, prior to today’s announcement, the Alberta government had made the decision to to leave that money on the table, as part of $300 million in heretofore unaccessed federal funding allocated to the province. As a result, Alberta’s essential workers have not yet received any wage top-ups, unlike their counterparts in other jurisdictions across the country.
While this is certainly good (albeit overdue) news for workers, Alberta is nearing the release of another provincial budget, which will undoubtedly see cuts to front line workers. Albertans should be wary that this top-up announcement, although much needed, is being presented as a cushion to soften the impending blow.
FEBRUARY 9, 2021: iOAT STUDY
Alberta's iOAT program is facing closure, despite being described as “the last chance for recovery” for patients struggling with opioid dependency. But a new study from the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary shows the program's benefits to both participants and their communities.
FEBRUARY 4, 2021: CALLS FOR ISOLATION PAY
AUPE is calling on the provincial government to provide paid isolation leave for all workers following an announcement made by Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw that household contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19 variants will need to isolate for 24 days.
FEBRUARY 1, 2021: COVID HOTELS
The program providing government funding to people needing to self-isolate in hotels has been expanded to include all Albertans, regardless of where they live. Once being referred by AHS, Albertans unable to quarantine at home are eligible for a $625 relief payment in compensation for the hotel stay.
FEBRUARY 1, 2021: AUPE CALLS FOR AHS TO TAKE OVER CARE HOMES
After the deaths of nearly 80 AgeCare residents from COVID-19, AUPE, the union representing workers in the four facilities, is calling for Alberta Health Services to take over. Staff say they have been ordered to work in both COVID and non-COVID areas of the facilities, and to work even when they have been tested positive for COVID-19. AUPE has written a letter to Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer of Health, and Dr. Verna Yiu, CEO of AHS, insisting they remove AgeCare as operator of four Calgary area facilities.
JANUARY 29, 2021: PDD CARE
After many months of waiting, Rajan Sawhney, Minister of Community and Social Services, announced today that the Alberta government will maintain the current service model for residential and personal care facilities for people with disabilities in Edmonton and Calgary. Albertans who have called these Direct Operations sites their homes for years or decades will be able to remain there under public operation.
The ministry indicated that the decision was made as a result of the government review which found overwhelming opposition expressed by individual Albertans, families, service providers and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, who represent care staff and other workers in the facilities. In October, Friends of Medicare stood alongside health care advocates, unions, staff and family members, at a rally in support of the Albertans with disabilities who are supported and cared for under publicly-run Direct Operations at homes and respite centres in Edmonton and Calgary. It is thanks to this work by loved ones and workers, that families can now rest easy that the care of their loved ones will remain uninterrupted.
JANUARY 26, 2021: GOVT FAILED TO ACCESS $300M
A new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows that the Alberta government has left more than $300 million in available federal COVID-19 supports unapplied for or otherwise on the table, including supports for long-term care and low-wage essential worker top ups. CCPA found that while Alberta has received more federal support per capita than any other province, it is contributing just 1% GDP on provincial COVID-19 response spending. To date, 93% of COVID-19 response funding in Alberta has been contributed by the federal government.
JANUARY 21, 2021: NURSES SICK PAY
Following an agreement reached between Alberta Health Services and United Nurses of Alberta, nurses who must self-isolate under COVID-19 public health guidelines will now be eligible to receive special sick leave retroactive to July 6, 2020, the day AHS ended the special code nurses used for COVID-related sick leave. Negotiations between AHS and UNA are otherwise on hold until March 31, as of a memorandum of understanding.
This move is long overdue. It's absolutely necessary that all of our health care workers have access to paid isolation/sick leave so that they can follow public health orders to keep themselves safe, and ensure that they can continue to provide the best possible care to their patients.
JANUARY 18, 2021: PHYSICIAN REGISTRATIONS DOWN
Despite ongoing assertions from the UCP and the Ministry of Health that the province is not undergoing a physician exodus, the numbers continue to show otherwise. According to data from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta’s 4th quarter Physician Resources update, Alberta ended the year with 32 fewer physicians, the largest 4th quarter decrease in at least 5 years. Kim Seiver reports that Alberta now has just 1 family doctor for every 1,150 residents.
JANUARY 15, 2021: NURSES CALL FOR VACCINE ROLLOUT TRANSPARENCY
Alberta's nurses are calling on AHS to provide transparency on the vaccine rollout. Albertans deserve clarity and accountability when it comes to how these life-saving vaccines are being distributed—especially to the front-line workers who have been risking their health for months to keep us safe.
JANUARY 6, 2021: SCS REVIEW METHODOLOGICALLY FLAWED
A new article in the BMC Harm Reduction Journal scrutinized the “methodological weaknesses and aberrant results" of the report that this government is using to politically undermine harm reduction and justify defunding Supervised Consumption Services in Alberta. The findings of the final report were incongruent with consensus among existing peer-reviewed research, including suggesting (despite all evidence) that Alberta’s SCSs increased crime.
In the midst of a dire opioid crisis, the panel’s findings were “produced using poor-quality evaluation methods and could be mistaken as credible evidence,” and that “disseminating such unscrutinized results may lead decision-makers in the wrong direction during a time of crisis and thwart efforts to establish evidence-based harm reduction interventions, like SCSs.”
JANUARY 5, 2021: MEDICINE HAT MATERNITY CLINIC CLOSURE
Following unsuccessful negotiations to maintain funding for the Medicine Hat Family Medicine Maternity Clinic, its closure is now slated for July. The clinic was opened 17 years ago in response to a shortage of obstetrics doctors in the community, and takes care of about half of the baby deliveries in Medicine Hat—500 to 600 annually, and sees about 9,000 prenatal visits each year.
JANUARY 4, 2021: UCP MLAs, STAFF TRAVEL AMID COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS
While Albertans were tasked by the Premier with personal responsibility in lieu of adequate and timely public health restrictions, and while our health care workers continue to risk the safety of their families and themselves in order to save the lives of Albertans, a number of UCP MLAs and government staffers opted to ignore their own government’s recommendations and vacation abroad. Among those who were travelling was Tracy Allard, MLA for Grande Prairie and Minister of Municipal Affairs, who opted to spend her holiday in Hawaii. Importantly, Allard was the vice-chair of the Emergency Management Cabinet Committee, tasked with overseeing the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccination throughout the province, which is already behind schedule.
DECEMBER 22, 2020: NO CRIMINAL WRONGDOING AT ARCHES
The Lethbridge Police Department has concluded their investigation on ARCHES, the facility that was formerly home to the busiest supervised consumption site in North America before funding was pulled by the Provincial government due to alleged misappropriation of public funds. The Special Prosecution Unit has determined that all the money had been accounted for, and deemed that there was no 'criminal wrongdoing'.
In March of 2020, on the same day the Alberta government released the findings of its SCS review, Jason Luan, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, announced an audit of Lethbridge's site alleging financial irregularities. Despite advocates, including Friends of Medicare and Albertans for Ethical Drug Policy warning that defunding this SCS would lead to significant harm and deaths, the government opted to use this audit as the ideological justification to move forward on their dangerous plan to limit or eradicate harm reduction services in this province in favor of the government’s “abstinence and treatment ” only-approach.
DECEMBER 13, 2020: COVID-19 VACCINE
Canada is anticipating 30,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines for distribution over the next several months, with the first expected in Alberta this week. The first doses will prioritize health care workers, seniors, and others at high risk of contracting the virus. But while the vaccine is the welcome light at the end of this long tunnel, Alberta's front line health care workers warn that we still have a lot of work ahead of us in the immediate future to save lives and preserve capacity in our health care system.
DECEMBER 11, 2020: NURSES REDEPLOYEDIn an attempt by the province to increase capacity in our health care system, nurses and other health care workers are being overworked, and asked to do tasks beyond their area of expertise. As there are not enough health care workers to staff the beds expansion, AHS has released a blanket call to all health care workers with previous ICU experience. Meanwhile, the government continues to pursue its goal of cutting 250 positions via attrition. Patients are also being moved, including patients from the Glenrose’s geriatric psych ward, to create room for 22 new COVID-19 beds.
DECEMBER 10, 2020: EDMONTON SURGERIES DELAYED
According to AHS, 60% of Edmonton’s non-urgent surgeries will be postponed, while diagnostic imaging and other clinical support services will be reduced by 40% and ambulatory visits and procedures by 70%. These moves are attempts to increase capacity in our health care system amid surging COVID-19 cases. However, the lack of hospital beds and overstretched frontline health staff we’re presently experiencing represent long-standing problems in Alberta, and demonstrate that the province hasn't done enough to make our health care responsive and prepared for health crises like this pandemic.
DECEMBER 10, 2020: HEALTH MINISTERS’ MEETING
As Canada’s premiers meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to request an increase to federal funding for health care, health coalitions from across the country are calling for a long-term increase to the Canada Health Transfer (CHT). The COVID-19 pandemic has affirmed the necessity of a strong public health care system, and so health coalitions are calling on the federal government to renew its commitment to public health care by making long-term, substantial increases to the CHT and negotiating a new Health Accord, to address the structural inadequacies of federal transfers left by the failure to negotiate a new Health Accord in 2016/17. But we must see strings attached—federal funding must come with a guarantee that it will be invested in public health care and not used for other purposes such as paying down provincial deficits.
DECEMBER 8, 2020: MILITARY RESERVISTS PREPARE FOR DEPLOYMENT
As cases continue to explode in Alberta's seniors' care facilities, military reservists are now preparing to be called in. The military is anticipating staffing shortages in prairie provinces’ continuing care facilities, and is calling out reservists for pandemic-response training, including how to deal with “bodies and people at end of life.”
DECEMBER 7, 2020: PRIVATE OPERATORS PROFIT FROM PUBLIC FUNDING
Chartwell and Extendicare, private operators of hundreds of care homes across the country, have received huge sums of provincial and federal public funding during COVID-19, and yet have still failed to ensure resident or staff safety. These continuing care operators are among at least 68 publicly traded companies in Canada who have continued to pay out billions of dollars in dividends to shareholders, while receiving COVID-relief funding in the form of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. In Alberta, private and non-profit continuing care operators have also received over $200 million from the provincial government to compensate for lost accommodation revenue.
DECEMBER 6, 2020: CANCELLED LAB HUB COST $35M
New documents have revealed that Alberta Infrastructure spent over $12 million to return the former site of the cancelled lab hub into a field. An additional $23 million was lost in early construction costs, resulting in a total $35 million price tag to cancel the project. While our public medical labs have performed incredibly throughout this pandemic, they are on their last legs when it comes to equipment and infrastructure. The lab hub project was going to fix that, and provide much needed upgrades so that Alberta could once again be a leader in the sector.
NOVEMBER 27, 2020: BEDS SHORTAGE
Dr. Deena Hinshaw has announced that AHS will be moving 2,000 patients out of acute care and into continuing care facilities in order to make room for COVID-19 patients and the additional ICU beds they are anticipated to require. Thousands of hospital beds were closed as a cost cutting measure in the 1990s, from which Alberta is still suffering a shortage. We have seen no indication as to where the health care workers necessary to staff these beds will come from.
Meanwhile, continuing care operators have closed more than 500 beds in an attempt to curb COVID-19 outbreaks in their facilities, yet as of November 26th 324 of the 510 reported deaths (64 per cent) have been in continuing care sites. While private and non-profit continuing care operators have received government COVID-relief funding to the tune of over $200 million, they have not been held to account to ensure that this funding goes to address staffing shortages to keep residents and their caregivers safe. AHS has indicated that they are ready to respond to staffing shortages in private continuing care facilities, meaning once again, our public health care system is being asked to step in to compensate for the failure of the private sector.
NOVEMBER 26, 2020: DISMISSAL OF CMOH ADVICE
A story in the CBC reveals that the government has opted to follow political ideology rather than best medical advice when shaping Alberta’s COVID-19 response. According to secret audio recordings of several planning meetings of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) leaked to the CBC, the expert advice of Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, has been repeatedly undermined by the UCP government.
Albertans are suffering a deadly and worsening pandemic. They deserve a government response that is based on the best possible scientific evidence, and transparency when it comes to the political decisions being made to impact the health and safety of themselves and their loved ones. We need assurances that decisions are being made in the best interests of Albertans, rather than to advance a political agenda.
NOVEMBER 24, 2020: FINANCE MINISTER UNDERMINES PUBLIC SERVICES
Merely 90 minutes before the province unveiled the latest COVID-19 restrictions, Finance Minister Travis Toews tabled the province’s second-quarter fiscal update, which read in part: "While the public sector plays a key role in delivering public services, it does not create jobs or generate wealth. Rather, public sector activities and spending are paid by withdrawing money from the economy, through taxes, or by taking money from future taxpayers by borrowing for deficit financing."
This claim is not only a gross oversimplification of the economy and what gives it strength, but also undermines the importance of the work that our public sector workers do, especially while they are risking their safety to continue to provide essential services to Albertans amid a worsening pandemic. This follows other misleading comments from Toews about negotiations between Alberta Health Services and the province’s nurses.
NOVEMBER 24, 2020: NEW COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS
As per today’s government mandated restrictions and declaration of a state of public health emergency, Alberta has become a place where family members are not allowed to visit one another, but individuals and households can continue to go to casinos, bars or restaurants. Doctors have already said these measures are not enough.
Despite repeated calls from Alberta’s physicians and front line workers over the past month, urging the government to shut down the province, the restrictions announced today were complicated and piecemeal. Premier Kenney has said that the confusing decisions were made based on transmission data, despite the province having abandoned thousands of contact tracing cases. Restrictions are in place for the next three weeks, and the Premier has indicated that he will be introducing stricter measures if we don’t see an adequate reduction in COVID-19 cases. While the province has reached record numbers for COVID-19 cases, this is the first public address the Premier has made in nearly 2 weeks.
NOVEMBER 24, 2020: NO CONTACT TRACING
Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health has announced that AHS is temporarily giving up on investigating contacts for people who received their positive test result more than 10 days ago, due to a massive backlog caused by surging COVID-19 cases in the province. Of 11,500 people on the waitlist, 3,000 of them will not be investigated, and their contacts will not be notified. Currently about 85% of active cases in the province have no identified source.
NOVEMBER 23, 2020: UNIONS CALL FOR CIRCUIT BREAKER
Alberta's unions are calling for urgent COVID-19 action from the provincial government as cases continue to surge. The unanimously passed resolution calls for a province-wide circuit-breaker lockdown, a mask mandate for all indoor spaces, mandatory paid sick leave, and increased funding for schools, as well as for the government to formally adopt a zero-COVID, “crush and contain” strategy, similar to the ones adopted by some of the most successful jurisdictions, like New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, and the provinces of the so-called “Atlantic Bubble.”
NOVEMBER 20, 2020: HEALTH CARE LOBBYISTS
Recent analysis from PressProgress shows that of the hundreds of private, for-profit companies that have been lobbying the Ministry of Health, many are represented by lobbyists with close ties to Jason Kenney and the UCP. Unsurprisingly, these companies have a invigorated interest in the “business opportunities” within our health care system, given the government’s ongoing attempts to privatize and contract out many parts of the sector.
NOVEMBER 17, 2020: CLOSURE OF 500 CONTINUING CARE BEDS
Alberta’s continuing care operators have closed 500 continuing care beds in a now desperate attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities. This move will only worsen the burden on our health care system, and especially the acute care system which is already at risk of being overwhelmed by rising COVID-19 cases.
We already know what is needed to improve seniors' care: legislated staff-to-patient ratios, national care standards, getting profits out of care. Change is long overdue in our continuing care system, and we're seeing the results of this inaction being laid bare by this pandemic.
NOVEMBER 16, 2020: COVID-19 APP FAILURE
The province’s COVID-19 tracing app, introduced in May and lauded by the UCP government for being the first app of its kind introduced in Canada, has been revealed to have only been used successfully to trace just 20 cases. Amid failing COVID-19 contact tracing, Premier Kenney still refuses to allow the federal COVID-19 alert app to operate within the province, though it has been used successfully to alert contacts of 4,200 people diagnosed with COVID-19. Minister Shandro has defended Alberta’s app, despite poor numbers.
NOVEMBER 16, 2020: BILL 204 PASSES
Today, in Alberta’s Legislature, we witnessed ideology win out over the well-being of all Albertans and Canadians. Following the Third Reading this afternoon, the legislative assembly passed Bill 204: Voluntary Blood Donations Repeal Act. In the midst of an unprecedented and worsening public health crisis, Alberta is now on track to allow the corporate collection and global export of Albertans’ plasma.
Though Bill 204’s sponsor, MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo Tany Yao, has insisted his bill will help address our domestic plasma supply needs, in its mere three pages, the bill contains no stipulations to guarantee that privately collected plasma will remain in Alberta or even Canada. Instead, it will allow private blood brokers to set up shop in our province, and profit from the sale of our plasma on the international market. In contrast, every single collection within our publicly funded blood system is guaranteed to be used to treat Canadian patients.
NOVEMBER 12, 2020: DOCS & UNIONS CALL FOR LOCKDOWN
Health care unions and more than 430 Alberta doctors have sent a letter to the government as surging COVID-19 cases threaten to overwhelm our health care system. In light of tepid and voluntary restrictions set by the government, our health care professionals are calling for "strong and decisive mandatory measures" to prevent our hospitals and our health care system from becoming overwhelmed.
NOVEMBER 12, 2020: AUDITOR GENERAL SLAMS AISH DATE CHANGE
After reviewing the decision to change payment dates to AISH recipients, the Auditor General says the change was done to make the government's balance sheet look more favorable. Recipients, who receive a maximum income of $1,685 a month, are having to stretch their already tight budgets a few more days, and as a result have missed rent payments or have found themselves unable to pay for their basic necessities. Now come to find this strife was needlessly imposed to make the ministry's books look better—in violation of public sector accounting standards.
NOVEMBER 11, 2020: DOCTORS CALL FOR CIRCUIT BREAKER
- Alberta doctors are calling for the provincial government to implement an immediate two-week emergency lockdown to urgently curb the province’s surging COVID-19 case numbers, amid warnings that our acute-care system could soon be overwhelmed, and an already overburdened contract tracing system.
NOVEMBER 6, 2020: CONTACT TRACING LIMITS
On November 6th, Alberta Health Services announced they would temporarily cease contract tracing for the majority of Albertans infected with COVID-19, excluding health care workers, minors and individuals who live or work within congregate or communal facilities. With record numbers of COVID-19 cases reported in the province, provincial contact tracing has been overwhelmed. Instead, that responsibility was offloaded onto individuals to notify anyone with whom they came in close contact. As of October 28, 40% of cases were of unknown origin, while Premier Kenney continues to refuse to make the federal COVID-19 alert app available within the province.
NOVEMBER 6, 2020: YAO ACCUSES CRITICS OF 'ORGAN HARVESTING'
In the Alberta legislature last week, MLA Tany Yao made the bizarre claim that labour groups and critics of his Bill 204: Voluntary Blood Donations Repeal Act are interested in harvesting organs from citizens without their consent. Yao’s bill would see an end to Alberta’s ban on the private purchase of human blood & plasma. Critics, which include Friends of Medicare and Canadian Blood Services, have concerns that passing this bill could threaten Canada's domestic blood & plasma supply. But rather than responding to these concerns, Tany Yao has opted to attack the organizations representing Albertan workers, and the Albertans fighting to defend and strengthen our public health care system.
NOVEMBER 3, 2020: PLASMA PRIVATIZATION
In addition to the position of Canadian Blood Services, which has made clear that opening our blood system to commercial for-profit businesses doesn't address our plasma supply concerns, and worse, could threaten our blood supply chain, the European Blood Alliance has now released a statement affirming that the introduction of for-profit blood collection has negative impacts supply sufficiency, safety and quality.
Despite warnings from around the world that legislation like Bill 204 could threaten our supply chains by introducing unnecessary commercial competition in the form of companies that intend to profit from the export of our plasma, Bill 204 has been allowed to proceed to the legislature where it is expected to be heard for third reading on November 1.
OCTOBER 27, 2020: RALLY FOR PDD CARE
Albertans rallied in protest of the government's impending privatization of residential care for people with disabilities, without the consent of families and guardians. The move follows a similar change imposed on Albertans, when in 2013 the Redford government announced the closed the Michener Centre and moved 41 aging and medically fragile residents from their homes, 5 of whom died as a result. On Tuesday, Albertans stood in support of our friends, family and community members with disabilities who rely on this care.
OCTOBER 26, 2020: HEALTH CARE WORKERS WILDCAT STRIKE
Front-line hospital workers represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees have walked off the job at locations across Alberta today, to defend their jobs and the public health care system that keeps Albertans safe and healthy. Thousands of workers went on a wildcat strike in response to the provincial government's aggressive agenda of cuts and privatization, culminating in the announcement that they would be cutting 11,000 front-line health care jobs, impacting an estimated 16,000 Albertans. In their refusal to listen to Albertans' concerns on behalf of our public health care system, this government has left health care workers little choice but to strike.
OCTOBER 21, 2020: STAMP PROGRAM
AHS has proposed a new Standardizing Access to Medications for Ambulatory Patients (STAMP) program which would require patients to pay for the cost of their medications, as well as the costs of having them administered, such as in the case of infusions. These are life saving medications that Albertans with chronic conditions rely on to avoid becoming acutely ill or even facing death. Instead of ready access to their medications in hospitals and clinics, patients will be instructed to purchase private insurance plans to cover some of the costs.
This program follows other government changes to Albertans' drug access, including the Alberta Biosimilar Initiative which extemporaneously switched 26,000 Albertans from their biologic medications onto cheaper biosimilars, and kicking 46,000 dependents off of the Alberta Blue Cross Coverage for Seniors program. Meanwhile, Jason Kenney has only doubled down on his intention to opt Alberta out of the promised national pharmacare program.
OCTOBER 13, 2020: AHS IMPLEMENTATION PLAN
Today, Alberta Health Services released their Proposed Implementation Plan, following their Performance Review commissioned for over $2 million from American accounting firm E&Y by the provincial government back in February. Expectedly, the plan outlines aggressive cuts and privatization of our health care system, even despite major concerns as to the reliability of the initial 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. 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
OCTOBER 9, 2020: TOEWS ATTACKS NURSES
Alberta’s Finance Minister, Travis Toews, has issued a news release accusing the United Nurses of Alberta of trying to “take advantage of a health crisis,” after they announced they had rejected AHS’ proposal to delay collective bargaining negotiations. UNA proposed that the current no-layoff letter of understanding, which has temporarily put a hold on the government’s plan to lay off 750 nurses, continue until after a collective agreement is reached. Toews release, echoed by Premier Kenney, signal that this government has every intention on moving forward with these lay-offs, with little regard for the critical role that nurses have played in the province’s COVID-19 response, and in our health care system on whole.
OCTOBER 8, 2020: REGISTERED PHYSICIANS
The government has touted the fact that 11,000 doctors are now registered to practice in Alberta, for the first time ever. The Health Minister quickly took to Twitter, where he used those numbers to once again refuted the claim that there is a doctors exodus occurring in Alberta. Unfortunately for him, another look at the data reveals it’s not exactly the win the Minister is trying to claim.
Instead, while we’ve seen a record high, it has not kept up with population growth. Moreover, the increase was mostly of specialists, and the net total of family physicians actually decreased. Doctors were also quick to note that 3rd quarter registrations are always highest as that’s when new grads enter the work force, and this was the smallest 3rd-quarter increase in physician registrations in 5 years. There is still just 1 family doctor for every 1,300 residents.
OCTOBER 8, 2020: IOAT CLIENTS LAUNCH LAWSUIT
The government is closing the doors on the life-saving Injectable Opioid Agonist Treatment (iOAT) program, forcing 100 Albertans off a treatment that works for them, at a time of unprecedented overdose rates. Now, 11 patients are launching a constitutional challenge against the Alberta government's decision to cut them off their addiction treatment.
OCTOBER 7, 2020: DOCTORS SEND LETTER TO LUAN
Alberta's doctors have sent an open letter to Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions urging him to rethink his decision to close Lethbridge's only supervised consumption site. The doctors say that Alberta needs to provide much more support to prevent “suffering and death of vulnerable Albertans,” starting with bolstering existing harm reduction services like the now defunct Lethbridge supervised consumption site.
OCTOBER 3, 2020: NO SAFE SUPPLY PROGRAM
More than a week after the release of the 3rd quarter Opioid Response Surveillance Report, which revealed record high deaths from accidental opioid poisoning, Premier Kenney made his first public comments on the matter. He confirmed that the UCP “will not consider safe supply programs or bolster existing supports, such as supervised consumption services,” despite best evidence from around the world showing the importance of integrated harm reduction in addictions responses.
OCTOBER 1, 2020: INTERNATIONAL DAY OF OLDER PERSONS
In commemoration of the International Day of Older Persons, the UCP government held a flag raising, to which no Alberta seniors’ groups were invited. Though some of these groups were pivotal to this province’s decision to recognize Older Persons on October 1, they have not been invited to the official ceremony since the UCP formed government.
Instead, this year Friends of Medicare and Public Interest Alberta’s Seniors Task Force, comprised of over 15 seniors' groups and allied organizations, held a press conference to call for much needed and long-overdue changes to our seniors' care system. Seniors in this province have long suffered from the corporatization, underfunding and understaffing of our continuing care system. In the past few months, COVID-19 has rendered these issues all the more urgent, while the inaction of our governments has made it eminently clear that the health care needs of senior Albertans are considered of very low priority. As Minster of Seniors' & Housing, Josephine Pon made her address, seniors' chanted "Seniors Deserve Better!"
SEPTEMBER 30, 2020: UCP POLICY 11
A resolution to be discussed at the UCP’s upcoming AGM proposes encouraging the creation of two-tier health care in Alberta. The contents of this policy, tabled by Minister of Labour & Imigration Jason Copping, should be extremely concerning for every Albertan. If we allow two-tier health care in this province it will worsen wait times and compromise the public health care system for all of us.
SEPTEMBER 24, 2020: KENNEY TO OPT OUT OF PHARMACARE
Jason Kenney had strong words in response to yesterday's throne speech from the federal government. And he did not mince words when it comes to the promised national pharmacare program, and his intention to opt Alberta out. Kenney claims that the province "already has its own program," despite the fact that this time last year more than 1 in 5 Albertans experienced financial barriers to accessing their prescriptions. Now, COVID-19 has only worsened the problem. While many Albertans are out of work and thereby without coverage for their needed medications, the Premier has outright dismissed a landmark program which would provide universal access to prescription drugs. Albertans NEED pharmacare—now more than ever.
SEPTEMBER 24, 2020: OPIOID RESPONSE REPORT
Yesterday, while the media was focused on the federal throne speech, the Alberta government quietly released their much anticipated Opioid Response Surveillance quarterly report. Harm reduction advocates, including those whose lives have been personally impacted by overdose, have been pleading for Jason Luan, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions to release the latest report since the quarter ended in June. Now that it is publicly available, the report confirms what those close to the issue have feared. The most up-to-date data shows that 449 people have died from apparent unintentional opioid poisoning in just the first six months of 2020, and rates have doubled in the most recent quarter to more than 3 Albertans dying each day.
Meanwhile, the government has not slowed its course to end all harm reduction initiatives in this province, including the funding cancellation and closure of the Lethbridge SCS, and the cancellation of the iOAT program.
SEPTEMBER 17, 2020: PRIVATIZATION OF DISABILITY CARE
Approximately 200 guardians of disabled Albertans were given notice on June 10th that the UCP government is “exploring alternative service delivery”—code for privatization of several facilities that care for, and are home to medically fragile Albertans. This was to be a 90 day “consultation” with unionized staff, but the 90 days have come and gone, while no decision has been made and guardians have been left in the dark about the process.
In 2013, a similar announcement was made by then-Premier Alison Redford, regarding the closure of Red Deer’s Michener Centre. As a result of the move, 5 out of 41 residents died. Now, it is critical that the government learn from that tragic mistake and desist the needless privatization of these homes.
SEPTEMBER 16, 2020: AISH ELIGIBILITY
Just days after the story broke about the government’s plans to cut AISH funding, Premier Kenney has clarified that incomes will not be reduced, but instead Albertans’ eligibility for the program will be narrowed. The Premier’s issues manager took to Twitter, where he claimed the program was being misused by people with mental illnesses and disabilities like anxiety and ADHD—despite the considerable hoops recipients need to jump through in order to meet current eligibility.
In his address, Kenney called the AISH program "generous," while AISH recipients are expected to get by on a maximum amount of just $1,685 a month—$20,220 per year, or about $11K less per year than the province's full-time minimum wage earners.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2020: CHARTERED SURGICAL FACILITIES
Just one day after the BC courts revealed their decision on the landmark Cambie Case, the Alberta Health Minister has reaffirmed his plans to open chartered surgical facilities in a bid to curb wait times. Rather than building public capacity, the government is doubling down on plans to contract out surgical services to private companies. As evidence—and the BC Supreme Court—has shown, privatization is not benign. We can expect these facilities will eventually need to allow more complex surgeries to take place in their facilities to guarantee sufficient volume and to maintain services in this market that has been created, worsening the trend of private health care and undermining our public system.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2020: AISH CUTS
The government is considering cutting AISH (assured Income for the Severely Handicapped), which would mean reducing the already meager incomes of almost 70,000 Albertans with disabilities who rely on the program. This follows the deindexation of AISH late last year, which means recipients no longer receive automatic increases to their income to keep up with cost of living inflation.
SEPTEMBER 9, 2020: ALBERTANS CALL ON KENNEY TO MAINTAIN iOAT
More than 600 Albertans have signed an open letter calling on Jason Kenney to maintain funding for the life-saving Injectable Opioid Agonist Treatment (iOAT) clinics in Edmonton and Calgary, funding for which has been cancelled as of March 2021. The iOAT program is a vital part of the full spectrum of addictions care. Around 100 Albertans will now be forced off of their treatment plans earlier than clinically recommended. The loss of this treatment option will be devastating for clients and their families and friends.
SEPTEMBER 8, 2020: COCHRANE DOCTORS TO MLA GUTHRIE
Family physicians in Cochrane have responded to their MLA’s framing of the ongoing dispute between the Alberta government and the province’s physicians as a “money issue.” The doctors outline their concerns about the government’s changes to health care, and say it will negatively impact rural patients.
SEPTEMBER 8, 2020: 1 MILLION COVID TESTS
Alberta has announced we have performed 1 million COVID-19 tests since the pandemic hit the province! But instead of recognizing the importance of our public labs, the government is doubling down on their privatization. The now cancelled lab hub project would have provided a much-needed update to technology and infrastructure, reaffirming Alberta's place as a leader in lab services. Instead, all we got was a multi-million dollar field where construction used to be, and no real plan to move us forward.
Despite measurably excellent performance throughout this pandemic, the support of Alberta's lab workers, and overwhelming evidence that public labs are best for patients, The Alberta government has plowed ahead with their goal of privatizing & contracting out our labs.
SEPTEMBER 3, 2020: EZMSA & ECMSA
Presidents of Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association and Edmonton Community Medical Staff Association have penned a letter to the provincial government outlining concerns about the additional strain on the health care system that will be caused by students’ return to schools. They say the government has left physicians ill prepared for back to school, with no guidelines, PPE, or other support to manage the anticipated jump in volume.
SEPTEMBER 3, 2020: MEDICINE HAT DOCTORS LEAVING
Two-thirds of physicians at Medicine Hat's Family Medicine Maternity Clinic—five of the clinic’s eight current doctors—are now contemplating leaving due to health care changes made by the government. The Family Medicine Maternity Clinic handles about 500 to 600 deliveries and 6,000 to 9,000 prenatal visits each year, or about half the city’s deliveries.
SEPTEMBER 1, 2020: HEALTH CARE WORKERS STILL WAITING FOR TOP-UP PAY
Nearly four months after the federal government pledged billions of dollars for top-up pay for essential workers during COVID-19, Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba and the Maritime provinces have all accessed funding, while Alberta still can't reach an agreement as to how the money will be spent. The provincial government has submitted two proposals for the top-up payment program, one of which has already been rejected by the federal government. Alberta’s public sector unions say they’re frustrated by the delay and the lack of information available. Meanwhile, the province's front-line health care workers and essential workers are still waiting to hear who even qualifies for the federal wage top-up, let alone how much or when they can expect it.
SEPTEMBER 1, 2020: “NEW APPROACH” TO CONTINUING CARE
Today’s announcement by Premier Kenney and Health Minister Shandro, boasting a ‘new approach’ to creating continuing care spaces featured nothing of the sort. Instead, what we’re seeing is this government perpetuating the same old system that has been in crisis for decades—the direct result of rampant privatization.
The first part of this approach will involve opening a mere one-month long bidding process to corporate and non-profit organizations identifing “underutilized space” in existing buildings to become new publicly-funded, privately-delivered continuing care beds. The government is uncertain how many new beds this program will secure, how many additional staff will be needed, or how much this will cost the public. The next phase of the approach will include capital grants under “ASLI 2.0.” Currently, the Affordable Supportive Living Initiative (ASLI) allows the government to provide up to 50% of funding for construction costs, followed by operational costs to run privately and non-profit facilities. The province does not own the buildings, and once the contracts expire, the public must buy the building back at the market price. The initiative has resulted in the aggressive privatization of Alberta’s continuing care system, and the erosion of higher-acuity long-term care (LTC) in favour of expanding the more lucrative and under-regulated designated supportive living (DSL) facilities.
AUGUST 31, 2020: SCS PANEL OVERSPENDING
While Jason Luan, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, has been very vocal about the alleged misappropriation of funds by the former ARCHES facility (and swift to close the facility as a result) he has been silent about the gross misuse of funds by his own appointed panel. The eight-person committee, tasked with evaluating the “socio-economic” impact of Alberta’s supervised consumption sites, has been found to have exceeded their travel, accomodation and meal budget by $10,000. The chair and vice-chair of the panel have also been accused of “double-dipping” on travel claims.
AUGUST 31, 2020: ARCHES CLOSURE
Today, on International Overdose Awareness Day, we remember the Albertans who have died of overdose, and send out our solidarity to the parents, grandparents, children, families, and friends of those who have lost their lives.
Ironically, while we remember and mourn, we must simultaneously watch this government move ahead with the closure of ARCHES, North America’s busiest supervised consumption site. The site has been replaced by a mobile site with a capacity for only 3 people, and which will not run the other programs the closed facility had offered, like needle cleanup and community outreach. Already, Lethbridge is seeing negative impacts from the closure of its SCS.
AUGUST 28, 2020: HARM REDUCTION ADVOCATES SEND LETTER TO PROVINCE
Nearly 800 harm reduction advocates and organizations from across the country have signed an open letter urging the Alberta government to reinstate funding for Lethbridge’s supervised consumption site. This letter follows another sent by Friends of Medicare and other Albertans for Ethical Drug Policy in July.
AUGUST 21, 2020: CFPC LETTER TO MINISTER
Alberta’s physician’s colleges are speaking out against the Health Minister's ongoing attacks on the province's physicians, and the impact it will have on patients. As the certifying body of Canada's family doctors, the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) is tasked with setting standards in family medicine to ensure the best quality and accessibility of care for patients. The open letter, addressed to Health Minister Tyler Shandro, is signed by the president and the registrar of CFPC, as well as the president of the Alberta Medical Association, and the president and the executive director/CEO of the Alberta College of Family Physicians.
AUGUST 12, 2020: ARCHES CLOSURE
Lethbridge is losing its supervised consumption, needle collection, and outreach services effective August 31. This is a devastating loss for the community, and especially those who depend on these life saving services. ARCHES' clients have done nothing to deserve being cast out into the street during a dual health crisis.
Last month, Albertans for Ethical Drug Policy sent an open letter to Jason Luan, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health, urging them to maintain funding and services in Lethbridge. This call has NOT been met.
AUGUST 10, 2020: PRIVATE SURGICAL FACILITY
A new CBC story has revealed that a new private orthopedic surgical facility—the largest ever in Alberta—has been proposed on the site of Ericksen Nissan, next to the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, and has already gained the Minister of Health’s “tentative political support.”
Under the proposed terms of this backroom deal, the $200+ million, 5-7 story private surgical facility would be tasked with performing all insured minor surgeries, while the public system would be left with the more complex cases. This deal ensures that the government—meaning every single Albertan—would assume all risk if this privatization experiment does not work out. Just as we did when this same “business model” was tried at the Health Resource Centre in Calgary, which eventually went bankrupt leaving Albertans on the hook for millions of dollars and over 900 surgeries to be brought back under the public system.
AUGUST 5, 2020: CENTRALIZING EMS DISPATCH
Alberta Health Services is removing local emergency medical service dispatch from Lethbridge, Calgary, Wood Buffalo and Red Deer, and consolidating them with existing province-wide dispatch centres. AHS says this consolidation will save the province $6 million per year, as per the recommendation of the EY AHS review. However critics, including Alberta mayors and firefighters, Lethbridge city council, and UCP MLAs, have argued that this move will be less timely, more costly to municipalities, and enable more complications than local integrated dispatch services.
JULY 29, 2020: BILL 30
In the wee hours of July 29, the government passed Bill 30: Health Statutes Amendment Act, after limiting debate to just one hour. Dozens of amendments proposed by the opposition were thrown out. This omnibus bill will make sweeping changes to Albertans’ health care, including repealing or changing 9 pieces of existing health legislation. Albertan patients and health care workers alike have been incredibly vocal in their opposition to the privatization of our public health care system, but the government—who Albertans elected to represent them—weren't willing to hear it. Passing Bill 30 and the privatization it opens the door to is an irresponsible and callous move from this government, especially at a time when Albertans and their families are reeling from the health and economic impacts of COVID-19.
JULY 29, 2020: DOCTORS VOTE NO CONFIDENCE IN MINISTER OF HEALTH
A poll released by the Alberta Medical Association indicated that 98% of the province’s doctors have no confidence in Tyler Shandro in his role as Alberta’s health minister. This follows an ongoing conflict between the government and physicians, which has already resulted in an exodus of doctors (and especially family doctors) from the province. In responding to the poll, the premier and government issues managers have dismissed Alberta’s doctors as an “interest group.”
JULY 16, 2020: DEFUNDING ARCHES SCS
Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Jason Luan, announced today that the Alberta government would be immediately defunding the supervised consumption service (SCS) in Lethbridge, following an audit which indicated funding had been mishandled. The ARCHES facility has been shut down, and Jason Luan has asked AHS to set up a mobile site in its place, despite the fact that mobile sites have a two-person capacity, while ARCHES sees an average of 800 visits per day - more than any other site in North America. Given that overdoses have been on the rise across Alberta, and given the existing constraints caused by COVID-19, this disruption will no doubt lead to individual and community harms.
► Read the open letter signed by FOM, Change the Face of Addiction, Moms Stop The Harm, and other Albertans for Ethical Drug Policy.
JULY 15, 2020: CPSA TO PROHIBIT DOCTORS' FROM LEAVING
Minister of Health Tyler Shandro has directed the CPSA (College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta) to prohibit physicians from leaving their practices’ en masse. This is an unprecedented breach of power from a ministerThe minister’s press secretary has said that this request is “because there is not a large number of actual departures (of doctors) or withdrawals (of services) currently or expected,” despite physicians in over 30 communities across Alberta having already announced their departures.
JULY 10, 2020: PRIVATIZING DISABILITY CARE
Families of Albertans with disabilities in government-operated care facilities received notice from the government that the Community and Social Services ministry were considering contracting out their loved ones care. Families are anxiously awaiting the government's decision, which is expected in September.
JULY 9, 2020: BILL 204
On July 8, 2020 MLA Tany Yao introduced Bill 204: Voluntary Blood Donations Repeal Act. This work-shy, mere 3-page bill simply calls for the repeal of the Voluntary Blood Donations Act (2017). It offers no alternative to address our current dependency on US plasma-derived products, and no reason to necessitate this repeal, except to further this government’s never ending quest to privatize our public resources.
JULY 6, 2020: BILL 30
Bill 30: Health Statutes Amendment Act was announced today by Health Minister Tyler Shandro. If passed, the omnibus bill would make sweeping changes to Albertans’ health care, establish the legislative framework for privatization and repeal or change 9 pieces of existing health legislation. Highlights of Bill 30 include:
• The Health Care Protection Act would be renamed to the Health Facilities Act, and would lower the bar for the approval of new private clinics and private surgical facilities. The current Health Care Protection Act (formally known as the infamous Bill 11) resulted from hundreds of thousands of Albertans standing up and protesting against then-Premier Klein’s ongoing attempts to establish a parallel private health care system in Alberta.
• Under the guise of ‘choice’ non-physician corporations would be able to employ doctors — corporations whose ultimate goal is profit.
• The number of public members appointed by the minister to sit on regulatory colleges would be doubled, enabling the government to stack councils with their supporters.
JUNE 22, 2020: VIRTUAL DRUG TREATMENT
The government has announced that they will be providing $4M over four years to expand Alberta's virtual opioid dependency program (VODP). The program is a virtual clinic for clients referred for opioid agonist therapy (OAT). Critics have pointed out that still too few programs exist to fill the gaps between the time that individuals identify their desire to enter this type of treatment and the time that it takes for them to gain access, such as supervised consumption services (SCS).
This announcement comes just months after the government announced they would be ending funding for the intensive opioid agonist therapy program, and mere days after Associate Minister Luan cancelled a planned virtual overdose response program just hours before it was set to start.
JUNE 20, 2020: PRIVATIZING DISABILITY CARE
Families of Albertans with disabilities learned via email that the care of their loved ones is being privatized. The letter, sent by community and social services, informed family members that the government would be exploring “alternative service delivery” when it comes to residential supports in Calgary and Edmonton, with the possibility of contracting out these services to private providers. While COVID-19 has laid bare the longstanding issues in private seniors' care facilities, the government is moving to privatize even more Albertans' care—without consultation from their families. Families are anxiously awaiting the government's decision, which is expected in September.
JUNE 19, 2020: CANCELLED PHONE-BASED SCS
Just hours before it was scheduled to launch, the UCP government cancelled a new virtual overdose response program. Jason Luan, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addiction said that he has asked AHS to “pause” the project “pending realignment of our addiction and mental health policies.”This AHS-led pilot project follows similar programs across Canada, and would have allowed Albertans to speak to a peer support operator via phone, who would monitor them after substance use and dispatch EMS in the case of overdose.
JUNE 16, 2020: PAID PLASMA
In the coming days, UCP MLA Tany Yao will be tabling a private members bill, Bill 204: Voluntary Blood Donations Repeal Act. With this bill, MLA Yao intends to repeal Bill 3: Voluntary Blood Donations Act, which was put into place to protect and enshrine blood and plasma as public resources under law, and to prohibit them from being treated as a market-based commodity.
Back in March, Friends of Medicare warned that private blood brokers had been lobbying the Alberta government, and attempting to persuade them to repeal Bill 3. While health care workers and communities have been struggling to support each other through the COVID-19 crisis, private blood brokers have been trying to profit off of this dire situation.
JUNE 5, 2020: SCRAPPED HEALTH ADVOCATE JOB COMPETITION
From Ministry of Health documents obtained through a freedom of information request (FOIP), Albertans learned that Tyler Shandro's office asked for recruiters to hold off on posting the competition for Alberta's health advocate position, on the day it was set to go public. The following day, former UCP executive director Janice Harrington was appointed to the role, despite having no background in healthcare or health administration, unlike her predecessors.
In 2019, the Seniors Advocate was rolled into the Health Advocate, and the role was reduced to a single position, now held by Harrington.
MAY 29, 2020: MASK DISTRIBUTION
The government has announced they will be providing 20 million non-medical grade masks to Albertans, distributed via A&W, Tim Hortons and McDonalds drive thrus across the province. Health Minister Tyler Shandro says that 95% of Albertans live within 10 kilometers of one of these locations, but that did not quell the outcry from Albertans concerned about accessibility, especially for those who don't drive. He also said they would be looking at other ways to distribute the masks, but no details for that plan have been provided.
Since then, Albertans have complained that they have been receiving multiple packages of masks, being denied masks without purchase, and being denied masks without a car, while health policy experts have questioned the strategy's effectiveness.
MAY 28, 2020: SURGICAL INITIATIVE POSTPONED
The government has delayed it's plans to implement the Surgical Wait Times Initiative, due to constraints caused by COVID-19. The initiative would see publicly funded surgeries performed at private facilities, and while postponed indefinitely, the Minister of Health has stated that they are still committed to the plan.
Friends of Medicare have spoken out against the government's surgical initiative every step of the way, raising issues of accountability, transparency, and the cost to Albertans. This is an opportunity for the government to reverse the costly and risky plan to privatize Alberta's surgical services.
MAY 26, 2020: HEALTH CARE LAYOFFS POSTPONED
The layoffs of more than 7,000 jobs, as outlined in the UCP platform, have been postponed due to COVID-19. Nurses, lab workers, health care aides, and other health care workers now have temporary security until at least September, when bargaining will resume. This health care crisis should drive home to our government how crucial it is that we have a strong, well-resourced, well-staffed public health care system. Instead, these workers, who have been working diligently for Albertans throughout this pandemic, still face uncertainty come fall.
MAY 26, 2020: EXPANDED COVID-19 TESTING
The province is expanding COVID-19 testing, including in seniors' facilities. However, some care homes have already been in outbreak for months, and tests remain voluntary for staff and residents in care, so this response is not strong enough to adequately address the incredibly high rates of infection in these facilities.
MAY 19, 2020: CONTINUING CARE FUNDING
The government announced an additional $170 million for AHS-contracted continuing care facilities, to offset the loss of ‘revenues’ that have resulted from this pandemic. A total of $14.2 million will be provided every month, retroactive to March 15th, and until orders from Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health have been lifted. Although the government said there would be a “requirement to report on the use of these funds,” and that facilities will need to “return money not spent on COVID-related purposes,” there was absolutely no indication that this reporting will be made public.
Alberta’s broken continuing care system is the direct result of decades of privatization and a funding structure that creates incentives for both not-for-profits, and especially for-profit providers to underpay their staff and understaff their facilities. While AHS provides ongoing funding to seniors' facilities for staffing care workers, these funds come with no strings attached, and no way to ensure that 100% is spent on those staff. This lack of accountability and transparency has been a disastrous mismanagement of public dollars.
MAY 4, 2020: MILLRISE SENIORS VILLAGE
Alberta Health Services (AHS) has quietly announced that AgeCare Health Services has been tasked with overseeing the management and operation of Millrise Seniors Village in Calgary, effective immediately. According to AHS, a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility was initially declared on April 15th, and on April 17th a health care manager was brought in to support day-to-day operations at the facility. It was not until the weekend of April 25-26 that AHS brought in an additional 20 AHS staff to support staffing levels and ensure infection control.
Rather than following the example of other jurisdictions like Spain, Italy, and BC, which have each made moves to bring their seniors’ care under the public umbrella, they have instead opted to appoint AgeCare, a private company that has received millions of public tax dollars to build facilities and which in turn has profited massively at the expense of Alberta’s seniors and their families
APRIL 24, 2020: RURAL DOCTORS
Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced that rural doctors will now be exempt from the government's newly imposed changes to physician billing. This follows ongoing worries and warnings of doctors' mass exodus from at least 400 communities in rural Alberta due to the new compensation framework that physicians say render their practices unsustainable. The initial announcement excluded 141 rural communities from the list of areas eligible for the new program, which the Shandro now says was in error.
The Alberta Medical Association says this announcement does not do enough to address long-term sustainability in our health care system. Alberta's Rural Physicians (Rural Sustainability Group) was similarly unimpressed. It seems unlikely that this funding alone will be able to begin repair the broken relationship between Alberta's doctors and its government, which began when the long-standing master agreement between the two was unilaterally torn up by the government.
APRIL 20, 2020: COVID-19 HCA FUNDING
New funding is being made available for temporary staffing of health care aides (HCAs) in continuing care facilities for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. $24.5 million is being advanced to operators to address immediate cost pressures. A wage top-up of an additional $2 per hour for HCAs will be provided, and up to 1000 paid student practicum positions will be added to fast track certification.
While this funding should be a welcome relief in light of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and it's disproportionate impact on seniors in care, it does not address the root problems that have been plaguing the continuing care system for decades. And funding is provided with no strings attached, and no accountability to ensure that 100% of funding received is spent on staff, rather than diverted to profits, executive bonuses, and other operational priorities.
APRIL 20, 2020: RURAL DOCTORS HOSPITAL SERVICES
Family physicians are predicting an impending health care crisis in rural Alberta, following the government's cuts to physician billing. A survey conducted by the Rural Sustainability Group of more than 300 rural Alberta physicians shows that 47% have, or will be decreasing their hospital-based services by July. Despite calls for the government to halt all health care cuts and billing changes until after the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic had passed, and to return to bargaining with the Alberta Medical Association, major changes were pushed through on April 1st.
The Ministry of Health has said that all physicians who leave would be replaced to maintain access in rural communities, though no information has been offered as to when, how, or from where new physicians would be recruited.
► See a list of communities that are losing doctor care (via Kim Siever)
APRIL 19, 2020: PPE FOCUS GROUP
Alberta Heath Services is creating a focus group to review new PPE procured in response to COVID-19 amid criticism from health care workers about the quality of new masks. Rather than listening to front-line workers about their issues with the equipment being provided, AHS is allocating precious time and resources amid an ongoing pandemic.
APRIL 18, 2020: REPLACEMENT PPE
New personal protective equipment (PPE) received by front line staff has been criticized for being substandard. Workers say the masks cause skin rashes, nausea, headaches and throat irritation when worn, and slip on the face, putting both workers and patients at risk. The health minister has since defended the quality of the masks, and AHS has responded by removing masks from wrappers and airing them out before they are sent to staff.
The new masks come just a week after the province donated 750K N95 masks to other provinces.
APRIL 11, 2020: PPE DONATIONS TO ON, BC & QC
Alberta donated 750K N95 masks, 7M procedural masks, 50 ventilators, and gloves and goggles, to Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec. In his announcement, Premier Kenney said he is "absolutely confident" that Alberta will not run out of personal protective equipment, and has even promised to mass procure non-medical masks for the public. Meanwhile, just days prior, AHS was considering sterilizing and reusing PPE, including steam cleaning N95 masks.
Days later, Alberta physicians revealed that they were purchasing PPE at a premium and hand delivering them to facilities that were short.
APRIL 1, 2020: MASSIVE HEALTH CARE CUTS
• Seniors taking Driver Medical Exams must now pay out of pocket.
• Referrals by some practitioners for publicly-funded diagnostic imaging is now uninsured.
• Physicians are no longer able to submit Good Faith Claims, preventing them from billing for the care of patients who cannot provide identification or a valid Alberta Health card.
• No more clinical stipends, impacting rural primary care especially.
• Sage Health Services is closing, leaving 500+ seniors without community access to primary care.
MARCH 30, 2020: FOR-PROFIT BLOOD INDUSTRY LOBBY
The Alberta government lobbyist registry shows that a big pharma interest group that represents the private for-profit blood industry (Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association represented by Santis Health Inc), is attempting to persuade the government to repeal the Voluntary Blood Donation Act (2017), which bans for-payment blood clinics in the province.
If the act is repealed, it would ensure that tens of thousands of units of much needed blood plasma are shipped out of the province to global markets, putting the entire Canadian supply chain at risk.
MARCH 23, 2020: PHYSICIAN BILLING CODES
Following weeks of ongoing calls from physicians, the government announced new temporary physician billing codes so that doctors can be compensated for providing virtual care, just as they would for an in-person visit - and at the same rate Telus Babylon already receives. The change is very important in allowing patients to receive care from their family doctor at home, and limiting the spread of COVID-19. However, physicians have expressed concern with the limitations of the billing code, particularly that patients must initiate the virtual appointment.
MARCH 19, 2020: TELUS BABYLON APP
On March 17, 558 Alberta physicians sent an open letter to Premier Jason Kenney, urging them to change billing codes - including telehealth - to better allow them to treat COVID-19, and limit the spread of the virus. Days later, the Alberta government announced a partnership with Telus Health, through which health care is delivered via app, and paid for through an alternative relationship plan (ARP). Rather than implementing public solutions as per recommendations of front-line physicians about their professional needs, and the health needs of Albertans, the government instead chose to unilaterally institute a private service that will further fragment Albertans' access to primary care, and compromise their medical privacy.
MARCH 17, 2020: EXPEDITED BUDGET
Amid an ongoing and worsening pandemic, the government pushed through it's 2020 budget. Despite garnering much criticism for the heavy-handed cuts contained in the austerity budget since it's initial release, and calls from Albertans to reverse cuts in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the government instead chose to leverage the political, economic, and health uncertainty garnered by the pandemic to expedite the passing of the budget. None of the typical committees for health or other ministry estimates were held, and the budget was passed Tuesday evening.
MARCH 15, 2020: COVID-19 FUNDING
Premier Jason Kenney announced today that he would be providing an additional $500 million to Alberta's health budget, in response to health costs associated with COVID-19.
This funding however, still leaves Alberta $200 million short of the minimum $700 million necessary just to meet inflation and population growth in 2020. Given the damage that has already been done in the form of funding cuts, staff cuts, and program closures, it is no more than a band-aid over an ongoing and growing problem – even before we take into account COVID-19 health care needs.
MARCH 13, 2020: STAFF CUTS ON HOLD
Health Minister Tyler Shandro has announced that plans to cut the number of front-line health care workers in Alberta would be paused for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this is absolutely the necessary move to make while our health care system is under additional stress due to this outbreak, the minister's announcement does not provide any assurance to the dedicated health care workers who continue to work tirelessly to ensure our safety during this difficult time, that their workplaces will remain adequately staffed once this pandemic is over.
MARCH 9, 2020: iOAT PROGRAM
Following the release of the SCS review committee report, the Alberta government will be cutting funding for injectable opioid agonist treatment (iOAT) as of March 31, 2021. The program provides doses of hydromorphone to people with chronic opioid dependency under supervision of a nurse. Currently, there are 65 patients in the program, who have one year to transition to other health services after funding ends.
MARCH 5, 2020: SCS REVIEW COMMITTEE REPORT
The committee appointed by the government to review the "socioeconomic impacts" of Alberta's existing supervised consumption services (SCS) has released it's final report, following months of online and townhall consultation with Albertans. Already, the report has been panned as biased or inaccurate by nurses, doctors, academics, criminologists, Edmonton Police Service, and City Councillors, among others. Shockingly, members of this committee chose to undermine the life-saving measures taken at these sites to revive individuals suffering what was referred to as “adverse effects.” To downplay the precautionary interventions of the qualified health care providers on staff at SCS facilities demonstrates ignorance when it comes to responding to an overdose, and calls into question the very basis of this panel.
Premier Kenney made comment in January that SCS may be "closed or relocated" as a result of this panel's findings, but Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan has yet to conclusively say whether sites will be closed.
MARCH 4, 2020: SURGICAL WAIT TIMES INITIATIVE
The government announced a $500 million investment as part of the Alberta Surgical Wait Times Initiative, and earmarked just $100 million of this amount to provide capital funding to upgrade and renovate surgical rooms and equipment and expand surgical capacity within the public system. But this announcement posed more questions than answers.
They have yet to indicate how their initiative will improve on the ultimate failure of the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative, on which Alberta's initiative was modeled. Little clarity was provided as to which surgeries were considered lower or higher risk, and thus would be designated to different facilities, in different communities. And while they indicated there would be a "modest increase" in surgical staff, their budget made clear that staffing would be reduced across Alberta's public sector. Most importantly, we have yet to fully understand the seemingly major role that private surgical facilities will play in this $500 million overhaul of our surgical system.
MARCH 3, 2020: DOCTORS SIGN OPEN LETTER TO MINISTER
Nearly 600 physicians across the province have signed a letter warning that governments' "short-sighted decisions can inflict untold, avoidable harm to Albertans that get injured, sick, need surgery, have a mental health problem, develop an addiction, on the farm or in the city, or have a family member that does." The letter follows letters from the province's ER physicians and psychiatrists, and a petition with nearly 15,000 signatures, calling on Minister Shandro to return to negotiations with the Alberta Medical Association.
As of March 2, Minister Shandro said he is unaware of the letter, and chalked concerns up to "misunderstanding among our health professionals in the province about what has changed."
FEBRUARY 27, 2020: ALBERTA BUDGET
The budget sees a flatlining of the health care budget for 2020, with a spending increase of a mere 0.3% over the next three fiscal years. A minimum of 2.9% additional funding is necessary to keep Alberta's health care spending in line with inflation and population growth each year – the spending freeze through 2023, as outlined in today's budget, will mean fewer public dollars spent in the health care system. In terms of the impact on Albertans, the spending freeze will amount to a 9% reduction in health care spending in the next three years.
• Fewer family physicians and reduced rural care;
• Fewer front-line workers to provide care services;
• Privatization of surgeries and non-medical services like laundry, housekeeping, and food services;
• The reintroduction of the Affordable Supported Living Initiative (ASLI), which will see Albertans subsidize private for-profit facilities in favor of public ones, and the proliferation of the privatization of seniors’ care, and;
• No mention of continued funding to life-saving, evidence-based supervised consumption services.
FEBRUARY 20, 2020: TERMINATION OF AMA CONTRACT
Health Minister Shandro announced that his government would be terminating the long-standing contract between the Alberta government and the Alberta Medical Association (AMA), and, as per the MacKinnon Report, using “legislative options” to make changes to physician compensation. The government is implementing a new physician funding framework as of March 31, 2020, and physicians will be encouraged to move to a Clinical Alternative Relation Plan (ARP) payment model. This decision to unilaterally end its long-standing master agreement with Alberta’s doctors represents a dangerous precedent in the manner in which this government is willing to push forward their agenda.
They also outlined 11 consultation proposals that will not only negatively impact the financial bottom line for family physicians, but also for Albertans themselves. Some of changes include: Seniors' Driver Medical Exams will now be paid out-of-pocket, as will referrals for diagnostic imaging from practitioners like chiropractors, audiologists and physiotherapists; physicians will no longer be able to submit good faith claims for patients who can't provide ID; an end to clinical stipends, impacting rural care especially. Already, Alberta doctors are anticipating that they will have to close their practices or even leave the province due to the changes imposed by this government.
FEBRUARY 3, 2020: AHS PERFORMANCE REVIEW
Ernst & Young (EY), was contracted for $2 million to conduct a review of Alberta Health Services, with a focus on economics, rather than best health outcomes for Albertans. They released a report containing 57 recommendations that could result in an estimated $1.9 billion savings, though Health Minister Shandro indicated that not all recommendations were feasible, or would be implemented.
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.
JANUARY 31, 2020: SURGICAL SERVICES
AHS released a Request for Expression of Interest (REOI) for surgical services in Alberta. The request follows a government announcement of a new initiative to contract out surgical services. The REOI was not limited to hip, knee, and cataract surgeries as areas that will see further privatization, but also listed several potential procedures as areas of expansion for private surgeries, including gynecology and general surgeries, ie. hernia repair, mastectomy, and cholecystectomy.
We know that private delivery of surgical services costs more than public delivery, and we know that contracting out means that public loses our right to see what AHS pays for services from private suppliers, and is denied any input on how to provide or change services. Yet, the government is doubling down on their costly, risky plan to privatize Alberta's surgical services.
JANUARY 21, 2020: SUPERVISED CONSUMPTION SERVICES
DECEMBER 12, 2019: ALBERTA SURGICAL WAIT-TIMES INITIATIVE
In a press conference, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the government’s plan to reduce surgical wait times in Alberta. The minister confirmed that the planning for the surgical initiative was informed by the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative (which ultimately failed to solve wait-time issues in Saskatchewan) but was unable to clarify the lessons that this government is taking from its failure. The announcement came with no monetary figures, no timelines, and no details, but made it clear that they would be increasing contracts to Non-Hospital Surgical Facilities, providing public funding to private practitioners.
NOVEMBER 29, 2019: FIRST CUTS TO FRONT LINE STAFF
On Black Friday, Albertans learned of the impending loss of well over 5,100 front-line health care jobs and another 2,500 public sector jobs, via the release of letters addressed to union officials from Alberta Health Services and the Government of Alberta. United Nursed of Alberta estimate the loss of 750 registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses in the next three years. More job losses are anticipated following the commencement of the government’s review of Alberta Health Services (AHS). These announcements came alongside notice that AHS will be considering future contracting out initiatives, and the privatization of emergency, non-emergency and hospital transfer ambulance services.
NOVEMBER 14, 2019: PHYSICIAN BILLING
The UCP proposed that physicians stop billing for patients without valid Alberta health cards. This change would disproportionately impact vulnerable Albertans, and individuals experiencing homelessness in particular. Other proposed changes would alter the rates at which doctors can bill, including cutting funding for complex care plans, and restricting doctor pay for 25-minute visits to the same as for 15-minute visits. They have also proposed that the Alberta Medical association charge seniors for their mandatory renewal driving tests. Bill 21: the Ensuring Fiscal Sustainability Act will also limit the number of physicians allowed to practice in a given area of the province, as well as the number of physicians allowed per practice type or specialty.
Family doctors in particular, and especially rural doctors, have expressed worry about the impacts this would have on their ability to provide the care that their patients need. The Alberta Medical Association has called the proposed changes "troubling."
NOVEMBER 7, 2019: BILL 207
Peace River MLA Dan Williams introduced Bill 207: Conscience Rights (Health Care Providers) Protection Act. The bill passed first reading and was referred to the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members Public Bills. Although the Charter of Rights and Freedoms already protects doctors and health care providers’ ability to refuse to provide health services or procedures to which they morally object, Bill 207 sought to allow health providers to refuse to even refer patients to an alternate health provider. This bill would impact Albertans' access to legal health care services, especially reproductive rights, medical assistance in dying (MAID), and LGBTQ2S+ health care - and particularly for individuals in rural areas.
Following much opposition from Friends of Medicare, other advocacy organizations, the official opposition party, and medical professionals, the bill was shut down at committee level. However, after MLA Mike Ellis tabled the committee's final report, MLA Dan Williams indicated that he wished to speak to the motion for concurrence, and so debate was scheduled for December 2. This debate was interrupted by a tragic incident outside the legislature, in which a man took his own life to bring attention to the issue of MAID access.
Instead of reopening debate once the house resumed, the bill was left to fail on the order paper.
NOVEMBER 4, 2019: MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTIONS ADVISORY COUNCIL
The UCP appointed a new 23-member panel to address access to mental health and addictions services. The panel replaces the NDP-appointed Minister’s Opioid Emergency Response Commission, which the UCP claims was too focused on a harm reduction approach. One of the panel's co-chairs is Pat Nixon, father to two sitting UCP MLAs.
Meanwhile, the existing supervised consumption site review panel has yet to report to the government. The findings of the report, expected by year's end, will inform the government's decision about whether or not to continue to fund Alberta's existing sites beyond March 2020.
OCTOBER 28, 2019: ALBERTA PRECISION LABS (APL)
Existing leadership of Alberta Public Laboratories was suddenly removed and the name changed to Alberta Precision Laboratories. The name change and the removal of the word ‘public’ signals a move towards privatization in Alberta's medical labs, as is consistent with the recommendations of the McKinnon Report. The future of lab services in this province continues to be uncertain.
OCTOBER 24, 2019: BUDGET 2019
Budget 2019 saw a slight increase in spending in health care in 2019, and a flat-line in health spending for the following three years. The 1% increase in 2019 far from meets inflation and population growth (3.5%), and over 4 years the spending freeze will amount to a 15% reduction in health care spending.
Some notable changes:
• The South Edmonton Hospital has been delayed four years
• The Child and Adolescent Mental Health building has been delayed indefinitely
• Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) will no longer be indexed to inflation, impacting more than 66,000 recipients
• The reintroduction of ASLI means that privatization is ramping up in the continuing care sector
• $11 million cut from ambulance services
• Changes to the Alberta Seniors Benefit Drug Program could mean up to 46,000 people will lose their drug coverage
OCTOBER 17, 2019: EXPANDING LPN SCOPE
Health Minister Tyler Shandro revealed that the government would be widening the practicing scope of licensed practical nurses (LPNs). With an appropriate utilization strategy, an expansion to the role of LPNs could alleviate under-staffing in care settings and optimize the continuity of patient care, however, with the release of the provincial budget, the government confirmed that this move is intended to "lower the number of Registered Nurse (RN) funded hours per weighted resident day." Despite their assertion that this will have "no impact on residents’ quality of care," the government has the responsibility to establish an effective workforce strategy that includes the right mix of health care professionals in a variety of care settings, so that Albertans can be assured that staffing decisions are based on best patient outcome, not on budgets.
OCTOBER 15, 2019: LAWSUIT AGAINST OPIOID MANUFACTURERS
The Alberta government announced it would be joining BC a class-action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, and seek to recoup health care costs connected to opioid over-distribution. Meanwhile, Albertans wait to see what measures the government will be taking to reduce the number of lives lost each day due to the overdose crisis, and to see what their Opioid Response Strategy will entail.
OCTOBER 11, 2019: LAB EQUIPMENT FUNDS ON HOLD
OCTOBER 10, 2019: VEGREVILLE SUPPORTIVE LIVING WORKERS LAID OFF
After all 53 workers at the Vegreville Century Park supportive living centre learned they would see their employment terminated, the Health Minister made clear that he would not be intervening. The Health Minister's press secretary, Steve Buick, said in a statement: "He sympathizes with the staff and understands the new operator intends to hire mainly from the existing staff, and that there are other jobs available in Vegreville and area, so he hopes most or all the staff will have jobs at the end of the transition."
In early October, BC-based private operator Optima Living, issued layoff notices to the workers following the decision to contract their work out to Pro-Vita, a privately-held company also based out of BC. Optima Living receives receives operational funding from Alberta Health Services to hire and retain staff, and will now be contracting out staffing to save money for shareholders. Starting November 1, the employees have the opportunity to re-apply for similar positions, but at $8 to $10 an hour less than what they were previously making.
SEPTEMBER 3, 2019: BLUE RIBBON PANEL REPORT
The UCP appointed Janice MacKinnon to chair the Blue Ribbon Panel, and to look into our province’s expenditures. The panel was given a very narrow mandate to examine expenses but not revenues, and was tasked with recommending a path to a balanced budget by the year 2022-23, without raising taxes. The panel released its report on September 3, and the recommendations included massive cuts to public services, which will directly inform the UCP's upcoming budget.
In the area of health care, the panel recommended "transformational change in the way health care services are delivered and health care professionals are compensated." Most concerning was the recommendation that the government expand the role of private health care in Alberta.
JULY 9, 2019: CONTINUATION OF ASLI
On July 9th, 2019, without media releases or formal statements, Health Minister Shandro announced on Twitter that the Affordable Supportive Living Initiative (ASLI) will continue under the UCP government. His announcement was made with a photo op at the Silverado Seniors Village, owned by Park Place Seniors Living. The ASLI program allows the government to provide up to 50% of funding for construction costs, followed by operational costs to run these facilities. Tax payers do not own the buildings, and once the contracts expire tax payers will need to buy the building back at the market price.
JUNE 28, 2019: BILL 9
Introduced Bill 9: Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act, enabling the government to delay wage arbitration for thousands of public sector employees, including many of the province's front-line health care workers. The government's decision to impose Bill 9 on all public sector workers not only violates their charter rights and breaks a legally binding contract with the employer it also undermines the importance of the vital work they do every day on behalf of all Albertans.
JUNE 26, 2019: BILL 203
Following Friends of Medicare's presentation to the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members' Public Bills on Bill 203: An Act to Protect Public Health Care, the committee — comprised of 4 NDP and 7 UCP MLAs — voted to keep the bill out of full debate in the legislature. The bill would have protected our public health care system by prohibiting two-tier medicine, extra billing and any other form of private payment in relation to insured services, and would have banned queue jumping via cash payments.
This was possible because of a new Standing Order implemented by the UCP government, which allows government MLAs sitting in a position of majority to determine what bills presented by the opposition will proceed forward. As we saw in the case of Bill 203, these 7 MLAs now have the power to decide on behalf of 4 million Albertans whether we have the right to hear our legislators discuss proposed legislation that would impact each and every one of us. In the case of Bill 203, committee members' unwillingness to allow it to proceed to the Assembly for a fulsome debate on the importance of strengthening public health care in this province brings clarity to the direction that we can expect this new government to take.
JUNE 8, 2019: CONVERSION THERAPY
The government failed to take action to ban conversion therapy in Alberta, including refusing to reinstate the Conversion Therapy Working Group, or to commit to supporting their recommendations. Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s office has said that they “don’t think there’s a need to address [conversion therapy] specifically because it’s not a valid health service,” despite the fact that over 250 complaints have been made to Alberta Health from Albertans who have been subjected to the practice.
MAY 31, 2019: SUPERVISED CONSUMPTION SITES
Funding for proposed supervised consumption sites in Medicine Hat, Red Deer, and Calgary is suspended pending “socio-economic analysis” of the impact of the existing sites. The review has halted the development of the three proposed sites, and its results could impact the continued funding of existing sites across the province. Meanwhile, the government has not made clear what is in store when their “comprehensive approach” to substance addiction and misuse is eventually rolled out. What is clear is that Alberta is in the midst of an overdose crisis – a staggering 10,300 Canadians lost their lives between January 2016 and September 2018, with Alberta trailing only British Columbia in rate of overdose deaths. As of February of this year, the 3 existing supervised consumption sites in Edmonton alone have reported 420 overdose reversals and 15,335 referrals to other services and supports.
MAY 30, 2019: AHS REVIEW
As part of their election promises, the UCP said they would be commissioning a performance review of Alberta Health Services, with the intention of finding savings “on the administrative front,” despite the fact that AHS has the lowest administrative costs in Canada. On May 30 they began the review, with the final report on the $15.2 billion public health care agency due December 31. The real savings would be found if we looked at how much of our public health has been contracted out from under the public umbrella especially in home care and seniors’ care.
APRIL 22, 2019: EDMONTON LAB HUB PROJECT
As one of their first moves as government, prior to even being sworn-in, the UCP announced that the $590 million lab hub project would be put on hold until they have the opportunity to “review the project.” Then-Premier elect Jason Kenney claimed that this project “will do nothing to improve patient services,” a claim which is both inaccurate, and patently disrespectful to laboratory workers and the vital work they do for Albertans. Reporting from the Edmonton Journal showed that our current lab system is outdated and overwrought, and without a plan in its stead, this halt to what was to be a major expansion for our public laboratory services puts Albertans’ health care in jeopardy.