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Alberta Health Services 'patient first strategy' met with cynicism

The Patient First Strategy recently released by Alberta Health Services (AHS) is being hit with some skepticism from the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA).

UNA president Heather Smith said putting patients first is just common sense. She added that for the healthcare system to be truly centered around patients, some serious issues need addressing.

“There are changes that should not be taking place that AHS has in the works right now,” Smith said.

These changes Smith referred to include things like reducing skill levels of providers and failing to provide adequate levels of staffing.

“You can say you’re putting the needs of the patient first, but if there are issues like overcapacity, understaffing and workforce transformation, not only are they not in the best interests of the patient, they actually put the patients at risk,” Smith explained.

In the Patient First Strategy, AHS states: “AHS will actively hire and recognize people who demonstrate patient- and family-centred care behavioural principles, such as active listening.”

Smith said especially with the announcement in March that almost 1,700 positions at AHS would be cut after the former PC party released their provincial budget, she doesn’t know how patients will come first if those jobs do end up lost.

When asked about the strategy, AHS responded that they “do not expect that there will be job losses due to the Patient First Strategy” and “comment on the health budget” could not be offered.

The emergence of the strategy accompanied an announcement by Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman that the NDP government will not be following through with the Tories original plan to decentralize AHS July 1.

Hoffman told Metro earlier this week that this is a time for stability, and “less disruptive ways” are required to address the needs of patients in the healthcare system.

“Albertans and health care providers have seen their health system in disarray for decades,” Hoffman said. “The former government’s plans for operational districts would have again created havoc in the health system.”

Drew Barnes, Wildrose health critic, said he expects the decision to be met with a great deal of opposition from residents unable to receive responsive healthcare due to inefficiencies within the provincial healthcare system.

“I’m absolutely against the fact that they want to continue with centralization,” Barnes said. “Edmonton can’t make the decisions for everyone — it’s too big. We need local people who know what the problems are and where money is best spent.”

But Jane Sustrik, first vice-president with UNA, said for now, the ministry’s decision is a good step, adding that the Rural Health Services Review Final Report issued by the former PC government in March lacked detail.

“Stopping the chaos for awhile I think is a good idea,” Sustrik said. “I’m sure rural communities are a little anxious, but I read the rural report and I think it would have caused a lot of confusion and frustration.”

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