• Wed. Dec 6th, 2023

Health Administration

Come One, Come All To Health Administration

Former AHS board member slams Premier Smith in scathing letter

‘I was compelled to defend the staff and the organization,’ said Tony Dagnone

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A fired Alberta Health Services board member is slamming the decision by Premier Danielle Smith to replace the board with an administrator.

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Tony Dagnone says during his long career in health care he has worked under 15 ministers and eight premiers, and has never felt the need to criticize political leaders publicly. However, he did so on Friday, in a critical letter aimed at Smith. He said the premier’s criticism of AHS management has been unfair and that he felt he needed to defend the workforce.

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“I was compelled 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 get through COVID under tremendous challenges, and then to have the most senior political leader in the province criticize what they have done and what they have not done.”

The comments came after Smith and Health Minister Jason Copping replaced the board with administrator Dr. John Cowell on Thursday. Copping said appointing a full-time administrator would allow the government to implement plans to improve the health-care system quicker than a part-time board would be able to. The province wants to address four key areas, which include minimizing surgery wait times and reforming the system long term by consulting with front-line workers.

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Dagnone said the government has every right to change administration, but he disagreed with the decision to bring in an administrator, saying he has seen similar moves in the past.

“The government parachutes in an administrator into the organization, that individual vocalizes — as I found in my experience in the past — vocalizes a number of worn-out platitudes to impress those around. Then the administrator will question almost everything. But that same individual has no better answers or no better solution,” said Dagnone.

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 letter that has been shared publicly, Dagnone accused Smith of playing to followers who are anti-science, and said she has a “warped stance” on COVID.

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Smith’s office released a statement Friday saying the decision was not personal but was done to create better outcomes for Albertans. The premier’s office thanked the AHS board for the work they had done.

Our health care system is under exceptional pressure, and while this is an issue across the country, this is also an opportunity for us to make changes that address the concerns of the front line and better meet the needs of patients,” read the statement. “We need to support the exceptional front line staff across our province to do what they do best, and that means reducing bureaucracy and listening to them and to patients.”

Former board member Deborah Apps resigned at the start of October, shortly after Smith was chosen as leader of the United Conservative Party. In her resignation letter, viewed 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.

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“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,” wrote Apps. “No one had ‘the playbook’ for COVID. Consequently, governments across Canada are all wrestling with the impacts of the pandemic: staff burnout, workforce recruitment, patient wait times, and facility capacity issues. There is no simple solution, and I fear that the premier-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,’ ” wrote Apps.

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Deborah Apps said board members were drawn to their positions to help solve issues within the health care system.
Deborah Apps said board members were drawn to their positions to help solve issues within the health care system. Postmedia file photo

Dr. Myles Leslie, a researcher with 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 various walks of life can probably see different solutions to each problem. He said he believes Cowell will have plans to address emergency room waits and ambulance responses based on past work he has undertaken.

Leslie also noted the government left measurements for success vague ahead of an impending provincial election, and that he believes the government has included long-term reforms in the latest announcements so they can act on decentralizing the system should they re-form government in 2023.

“Everybody agrees it is a problem,” said Leslie. “But are we going to keep doing . . . (quick) fixes, or are we going to go some other way and not expect instant results? I want to see party platforms on that kind of stuff,” said Leslie.

He said finding different ways to address long wait times should improve the system somewhat, but that the government will need to find additional health-care workers to address supply-and-demand problems.

Copping’s office did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

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