It is obvious that the United Conservative Party (UCP) is changing how Alberta health care looks. 

   Following a ‘health audit’ done by Ernst & Young which was paid a tidy $2 million to talk to physicians and frontline staff, Alberta Health Services is destined to be changed on how it delivers health care. 

   It will be a confusing time for those on the outside as the public relations war between the unions representing the health care workers and the government/AHS goes into ‘full battle stations’ mode. 

Sacrificing our health care system and numerous jobs vs. becoming more efficient/more effective for less money.  It is a very compelling debate in what used to be a fairly conservative province but now has changed. 

   There’s an obvious frustration amongst voters, especially in rural areas, that the talk of the $1.9 billion the Ernst & Young report outlined their 57 recommendations could save may come at much of the expense of rural areas. 

   After all, according to the Ernst and Young report, of the 83 community hospitals in Alberta, the “threshold of viability” standards aren’t being met by 36 facilities and five could actually be boarded up. 77 emergency rooms were being under utilized and should be reconfigured. That could mean outsourcing of health care procedures like laboratory services or perhaps something like X-rays or MRIs which is already being done on a limited basis. 

   While health minister Tyler Shandro has already said they will not close those hospitals altogether, you can be sure that they will be recommended to look and operate a lot differently i.e. long term care centers.

   Back in the mid-late nineties and Premier Ralph Klein cut hundreds of millions of dollars with many health care facilities actually closing up (Empress). 

   If you live in the rural area, who doesn’t want a functioning hospital and not a glorified band-aid station or worse yet … no facility, in their community.   

   One way communities that are fortunate enough to do so to attract potential residents with educational and health care facilities. 

   While the unions are complaining about the potential and probable job losses, it sets up an interesting dynamic: does it mean if there are job losses, does the government decides who stays or who goes by the affect worker’s tenure, or is it salary, or is it by the number of positions in certain sectors.  Maybe the government even gives the unions parameters and let the union hierarchy decides who stays and who goes and the government doesn’t have to do the dirty work and the union hierarchy can save who they want. That creates a whole interesting dynamic altogether. 

   The hope is that there are trial balloons being sent up and drastic cuts aren’t necessarily in the cards.  

   Shandro stated there would be no health facilities closed but one wonders if physicians and health experts professionals may be doing weekly or monthly visits and if health facilities do stay open, they will look a lot different. For example, while there is talk that long term care facilities may go more private, there’s nothing to say that the UCP government may want to lease part of the hospital wings and long term care beds to a private company to do just that. 

   Maybe if all of the main health care is more centralized, does that mean that emergency services such as ambulances and air transit like HALO or STARS gets more government funding? No matter what, Albertans are in for a confusing and emotional public relations battle. 

   “It has become abundantly clear to Albertans that this government made up its mind long ago that the solution to everything is to cut services or hand them over to their corporate pals,” said Susan Slade in a basically union summarizing press release, vice-president of AUPE, which represents about 48,000 health care workers.

   May 13…mark it on your calendar. Health will have a  whole different blueprint. When the government gave Alberta’s unions notice in November that they were going to eliminate 7,400 jobs by 2023, you have to think This government already knows what it is going to do. The urban media is already singing the praises of the Alberta Health Services hierarchy including AHS CEO Dr. Verna Yiu. Remember this is all about numbers, the two cities, the hubs of the province and then everywhere else. 

   Yes, expect a rural vs. Urban battle again, much like the infamous 2014 Edmonton Journal story talking about the rural hospitals which should be shut down: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/Nine+rural+hospitals+Alberta+government+should+close/10440812/story.html

   With the hierarchy of Alberta Health Services based in Edmonton and Calgary, one wonders what the future holds for the smaller communities. Better or worse can be argued - whether it will be different cannot be argued. As a friend of mine so aptly put: a matter of delivering health care vs. delivering health services...will the dollars make sense/cents for all involved?

Ryan Dahlman is the Managing editor of Prairie Post East and Prairie Post West

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