Deciding to do things differently is not easy, and this is especially true with reforming our health care system. But with time and persistence, we will see the positive results of the many significant changes that are underway.
On Apr. 1, a single health board took charge to reduce administration and costly duplication of effort. The new Alberta Health Services Board’s mandate is to serve the entire province equitably, directing the maximum effort and dollars to health care.
Since making the move to one region, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) became part of the provincial health care system. Fully integrating EMS into the health care system will not only improve efficiency, it will improve patient care. Highly trained paramedics, in consultation with a physician, will be able to diagnose and in some cases even treat on site.
Alberta has introduced the HPV vaccine program to protect teens and young women from cervical cancer; introduced patient navigators to help Albertans with heart disease access tests, treatments and follow-up care; brought MRI technology to rural eastern Alberta with a mobile MRI; and introduced plans for phase I of our Pharmaceutical Strategy – improving drug coverage for the majority of Alberta seniors who rely on it.
Alberta now covers midwifery services and has expanded addictions treatment beds. New drugs have been added to our benefit plans to treat cancer patients and certain rare diseases. The number of primary care networks continues to expand across the province, providing more than two million Albertans with better access to primary health services.
So some of the heavy lifting has begun to change our public health care system for the better, but more needs to be done.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) has already identified $650 million in potential annualized cost savings in an effort toward trimming a projected deficit of $1.3 billion. AHS is also consulting with staff to identify a further three per cent in annualized cost savings, including an early retirement/ buyout option for employees. A new provincewide strategy to purchase hospital and medical supplies is expected to generate even greater savings.
Above all, Alberta Health Services is working to refocus health care on the patient and improve access to much needed services. The most significant changes within Alberta Health Services will centre on the balance of hospital and community-based care – providing the right care in the right place.
Over the next three years, AHS aims to cut the waiting times for surgery and in the emergency department. Targets include dropping the wait time for elective knee replacements from one year to six to nine months, and decreasing wait times for
90 per cent of patients in urban ERs with minor conditions to decrease from 5.6 hours to four hours.
Alberta’s health care legislation also needs an overhaul in order to improve access. To begin this work, a 16-member committee has been appointed to inform government on what legislative changes are needed to improve patient care and the performance of our publicly funded health care system.
By mid-November, the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Health will provide advice on a number of areas related to health legislation, including ways to expand patient access to health services, promote wellness and ensure the health system can respond to emerging issues such as advances in medical technology.
Albertans will be able to submit their ideas and suggestions next month online by visiting the Alberta Health and Wellness website at www.health.alberta.ca.
While the challenges are complex and difficult, all these efforts will move us closer to a better, more efficient health care system that will always put the needs of the patient first.
If you have any questions or concerns please contact one of my Constituency Offices at Stettler 742-4284; Hanna 854-4333; Drumheller 823-8181 or my Edmonton office 780-427-5041.