A fired Alberta Health Services board member has opposed Premier Danielle Smith’s decision to replace the board with an administrator.
Tony Dagnone says that during his long career in health care, he has worked under 15 ministers and eight prime ministers and has never felt the need to publicly criticize political leaders. However, he did so on Friday, in a critical letter directed at Smith. He said the Prime Minister’s criticism of AHS management was unfair and that he felt he had to defend the workforce.
“I was obliged to defend the staff and the organization,” Dagnone told Postmedia on Friday. “I think it’s very unfair to a group of people who have worked so hard to come through tremendous challenges through COVID, and then to have the most senior political leader in the province criticize what they did and what they didn’t do not.”
The comments came after Smith and Health Minister Jason Copping met on Thursday with administrator Dr. replaced John Cowell. Copping said the appointment of a full-time administrator would allow the government to implement plans to improve the health care system faster than a part-time board could. The province wants to address four key areas, which include reducing waiting times for operations and the long-term reform of the system by including consultation with frontline workers.
Dagnone said the government has every right to change administration, but he disagrees with the decision to bring in an administrator, saying he has seen similar moves in the past.
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“The government parachutes an administrator into the organization, that individual’s pronouncement – as I’ve found in my past experience – utters a number of worn-out levels to impress those around. Then the administrator will question just about everything. But that same individual has no better answers or no better solution,” Dagnone said.
Dagnone said the former board would have been willing to implement the government’s plans. He said work on reducing emergency room waits and improving ambulance response times was already underway when the board was fired.
In the publicly shared letter, Dagnone accused Smith of playing against followers who are anti-science, saying she has a “twisted attitude” about COVID.
Smith’s office released a statement Friday saying the decision was not personal, but was made to create better outcomes for Albertans. The Prime Minister’s Office thanked the AHS Board for the work they had done.
“Our health care system is under extraordinary pressure, and while this is an issue across the country, it is also an opportunity for us to make changes that address front-line concerns and better meet the needs of patients.” the statement. “We need to support the exceptional frontline staff across our province to do what they do best, and that means cutting red tape and listening to them and to patients.”
Former councilor Deborah Apps resigned at the beginning of October, shortly after Smith was chosen as leader of the United Conservative Party. In her resignation letter, seen by Postmedia, Apps said she could not in good faith support Smith’s decision to replace the board with a commissioner or a further “destabilizing” review of the health authority.
“Despite the challenges we face, research has found that AHS ranks among the best in Canada in terms of both cost control and administration of an integrated provincial health organization,” Apps wrote. “Nobody had ‘the playbook’ for COVID. As a result, governments across Canada are all grappling with the impact of the pandemic: staff burnout, workforce recruitment, patient wait times and facility capacity issues. There is no simple solution, and I fear that the Prime Minister-elect’s proposals will further destabilize the workplace environment.”
Apps said board members were drawn to their positions to help solve issues within the health care system, not for monetary or political reasons.
“Health care is far too important to Albertans to be used as a ‘political football,'” Apps wrote.
Dr. Myles Leslie, a researcher at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, said it is probably true that an administrator can work faster to implement the province’s plans, but noted that people from different walks of life are likely to different solutions for each can see problem. He said he believed Cowell would have plans to address emergency room attendants and ambulance responders based on previous work he had undertaken.
Leslie also noted that the government has left measures of success vague ahead of an upcoming provincial election, and that he believes the government has included long-term reforms in the latest announcements so they can move to decentralize the system should they reform the government in 2023 .
“Everybody agrees it’s a problem,” Leslie said. “But are we going to keep doing it . . . (quick) fixes, or are we going to go another way and not expect immediate results? I want to see party platforms on that kind of stuff,” Leslie said.
He said finding different ways to address long wait times should improve the system somewhat, but that the government would need to get additional health care workers to address supply and demand problems.
Copping’s office did not respond to requests for comment Friday.