Alberta Health Services board replaced with administrator to speed reforms

Empty CEO chair, workforce challenges and operating backlogs triggered crisis move

Alberta Health Services board replaced with administrator to speed reforms

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has terminated the entire Alberta Health Services (AHS) board of directors and replaced them with new full-time Official Administrator, Dr. John Cowell.

The massive leadership overhaul is part of Smith's plan to reform the healthcare system.

"The current process isn't working fast enough, so we need to do something different. Patients are waiting too long across our health system, despite the excellent work of doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other front-line staff. We need more urgent action to improve access," Smith said. "Albertans want accountability within AHS and they want to know that a world-class health system and level of care is available when they need it."

According to Cowell, his job is to evaluate the leadership and organizational structure of the AHS and determine how to expedite decisions. 

Cowell, who will report directly to Smith and Health Minister Jason Copping, will also work with AHS interim CEO Mauro Chies to develop "long-term reforms" through consultations with front-line workers in a bid to attract more healthcare professionals in the province.

Cowell and Chies will also work to improve EMS response times, decrease ER wait times, and reduce wait times for surgeries, according to the government release.

"AHS welcomes and look forward to working with Dr. Cowell in exploring new and innovative ideas that will challenge AHS to provide the best possible health care for all Albertans," Chies said. "We look forward to utilizing his experience and expertise in leveraging new and innovative means to continuously improve our services as a health provider to Albertans."

Copping said his appointment is just temporary and that a new board will be installed once the goals are met.

"I would like to stress that this is a temporary fix to help drive immediate changes and that the board will be restored," Copping said.

This is the second time in a decade the government has tapped Cowell to lead a shake-up of the provincial health authority. In 2012, the Progressive Conservative government dissolved the AHS board and appointed a series of Official Administrators, one of whom was Cowell.

Among Cowell’s challenges is hiring a CEO for the health service, which has been without a chief executive since April.

Alberta, like the rest of Canada, faces a shortage of professionals in healthcare, with a burned-out workforce demanding better work conditions. Provinces and territories across the country have enacted various measures, such as retention and sign-on bonuses, to address the workforce challenges. 

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