New AHS chair seeks total satisfaction
By: Stephen Lockwood
| Posted: Wednesday, Sep 12, 2012 06:00 am
Worthy goals should be ambitious. With that in mind I have one goal for Alberta Health Services in my time as chair of the board: total Albertan satisfaction.
It goes without saying that patient and family satisfaction are a high priority. But to get there, we also need the total satisfaction of our physicians and staff and our health leaders across the province. We need total satisfaction in our five zones and all of our communities.
How are we going to do that?
We are already well down the road with the acceleration in the past year of zone-based leadership and decision-making. But we can go much further, by unleashing what I see as a lot of pent-up enthusiasm and creativity.
It starts with a basic question: whoís in the best place to make a decision? Itís usually not head office, and thatís not a criticism of AHS. In the early days of our organization it was necessary to centralize a number of services and wipe out hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted duplication of administration of the former health regions. We are well past that.
To borrow a business term, one of the most important value propositions in creating a province-wide health system is that we now have the leanest administration in health care in Canada. That makes us unique and I would argue better positioned than any other health system to let our local leaders focus on what they do best: provide care and focus on innovation.
Every zone Ė or hospital or care centre for that matter Ė has to be responsible for making the decisions that make sense for its area and its patients. Thatís part of what total satisfaction is about, because in that environment, innovation, process improvement and increased productivity will happen.
Why are people drawn to health care, or any job for that matter? They want to make a difference. They want to feel respected, trusted and to be excited to come to work. They want to do what they do best. We intend to let them do just that.
Itís up to our board and senior management to create that culture and environment, to decide who is in the best position to deliver health care and then get out of the way so they can do their work. Above all, weíve got to trust and challenge our people and create an atmosphere where making decisions is second nature.
Make decisions and focus on patients. Make it easier for patients and families to understand and navigate the health system. It needs to be that simple. It has to be that simple. Total Albertan satisfaction.
Our physician-led, province-wide Strategic Clinical Networks that tie our organization together is one of the most important innovations in health care and another value proposition that makes AHS unique in Canada. Their task is to use innovation to reduce wait times and increase access and make sure every part of the province benefits, no matter where you live, no matter how big or small your community. It has to be that simple.
Letís also be clear on this point: we are not proposing or planning a restructuring of Alberta Health Services. But we are going to continue to learn and to refine the system and empower employees to move faster. Can we improve? Absolutely. Thatís true of any organization. And in the process, we will continue to reduce bureaucracy. Nothing kills innovation and job satisfaction more than bureaucracy.
The health system is more stable now than it has been in the better part of the last decade, and credit for that goes to both frontline staff and physicians and health leaders. This yearís staff surveys show satisfaction has improved dramatically. We are making progress on achieving performance targets and we want to accelerate that. Patient satisfaction is also improving.
Iíve been asked and expect I will continue to be asked about the past and the decisions of our predecessors. How that helps the health system today is not clear to me and is not our priority. We are moving forward.
Within AHS our financial controls will be made as strong or stronger than any public organization anywhere in Canada.
In my mind it comes down to integrity. I have great confidence in health-care providers Ė and that includes our senior health leaders. Itís too easy to criticize out of context and make unfounded assumptions. I will support and stand by them unless given a reason to do otherwise. Theyíve earned and deserve our respect.
We are also going to listen to both our supporters and our critics. They may well have good ideas. They may be surprised to hear that we may well agree on many issues and, Iím not afraid to say as much.
Iíll state this for the record: we are a publicly funded health delivery system. A policy change in this regard is the responsibility of the province. Alberta Health Services exists to deliver health care. Everything we do Ė everything Ė needs to be focused on that singular goal.
Todayís health system needs to serve us now and for years to come. So we will debate the issues, the options and alternatives. As a board, we will make decisions Ė including tough decisions. We will not sit back. The key is to start by asking those closest to the decisions what they think needs to be done and by empowering employees to drive us towards a best-in-class health system.
Itís not going to happen overnight, it wonít be easy and not all Albertans will always agree with our decisions, but it will get done. Letís also remember that this week the province opened a new hospital in Calgary; the South Health Campus. Edmonton Clinic in Edmonton is on the horizon this fall. In fact, across the province, new capacity is being added and we are upgrading what we have now.
Thatís what matters to most Albertans. Thatís what total Albertan satisfaction means to me. Iím going to do the best I can to get us there.
Stephen Lockwood is the new chair of the Alberta Health Services Board.