Editorial: Horne risks reining in Alberta Health Services too far

Today’s editorial from the Calgary Herald:

[ http://bit.ly/1mIjRBU ]Editorial: Horne’s house call
Minister risks reining in Alberta Health Services too far

It’s not at all surprising that Health Minister Fred Horne is removing some of Alberta Health Service’s financial autonomy and putting it under government control.

When Albertans have a beef with their $13-billion-a-year health-care system, after all, they don’t call faceless bureaucrats at the superboard; they’re much more likely to pick up the phone and complain to Horne or their MLA, regardless of political stripe. For instance, when it was recently revealed that Alberta has the longest waits for lung cancer surgery in Canada — an astonishing 85 days — people didn’t blame AHS for the delays, they directed their scorn at the Progressive Conservative government.

Here’s what one person posted beneath an April 1 online article that outlined the wait times: “The PCs have their priorities mixed up. Lavish spending and posh new offices seem to be more important than building hospitals and health care! Albertans should be writing their MLAs (PC) and letting them know things need to change.”

Knowing that the government is going to pay a political price for AHS’s decisions, it makes sense for Horne to ensure that he has some influence in its operation, as the minister has demonstrated previously. Horne has told Vickie Kaminski, who starts her job as the new CEO of AHS in June, that he wants her to get to the bottom of the lung surgery wait lists. And when the appointed AHS board mangled its handling of executive bonuses, he fired them last summer and later appointed a single administrator in its place.

Legislative changes introduced this week will give the minister the power to approve AHS’s annual budget. Currently, AHS is required to submit its annual health plan to the minister for approval, but not its budget, although Horne has traditionally been granted a look at the document. When the legislature resumes this fall, Horne wants to introduce legislation that would clarify the relationship between AHS and the government, and spell out how the health authority is expected to operate.

Horne has displayed good instincts, for the most part, in his handling of the challenging health-care portfolio. Where he risks overreaching, however, is in giving himself the authority to provide AHS with tight envelopes of funding, rather than a single grant to operate the system. In this year’s budget, for example, AHS received $1.8 billion for diagnostic and therapeutic services.

Horne should be thinking of the big picture — the quality of health care Albertans can expect to receive and the time in which they can expect to receive it — not painting AHS managers into corners and creating a scarcity of cash or excesses, depending on the minister’s wishes and which envelope or area he puts the money into. It seems extraordinary that Horne has a better grasp of how much AHS needs for diagnostic and therapeutic care than the managers hired to provide the service. If that’s the case, it begs the question why they’re employed in the first place.

It’s often noted that just because one pill makes you feel better, it doesn’t mean that two pills will have twice the effect. Horne needs to be prudent in the prescriptions he’s writing for the health-care system.

Dave Cournoyer
Communications Advisor
United Nurses of Alberta
Website: www.una.ab.ca
Office: 780 425 1025
Mobile: 780 913 1563

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