If elected, the United Conservative Party says it will put Alberta Health Services under the microscope.
UCP leader Jason Kenney pledged on Feb. 20 to commission a performance review of the public organization if he becomes the province's next premier. He also vowed to either maintain or increase health spending.
Jeff Wedman, the UCP candidate for the St. Albert riding, said the review would look into how money is being spent in the organization. The UCP would also look at administration costs and why wait times are so high in Alberta.
“We believe a better indicator of success is not just the gross, how much money is spent, but how much value the public received for that,” he said.
Wedman, a police officer in Edmonton, said he’s heard anecdotally from other front-line staff in hospitals that they’re frustrated with administrative processes.
While sitting in a cafe in St. Albert Thursday afternoon, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said, “Anytime you can find efficiencies in administration, I think you should look at that.”
“But you do need somebody paying the bills and making sure that patients' charts are being monitored properly,” she added.
She said Kenney's pledge has no weight to it, since he abandoned the grassroots pledge he signed publicly last year. The document promised to hear feedback from all party members when drafting policy.
In addressing wait times, Hoffman said in the last two years the NDP government has added 2,000 long-term and supportive-living beds in Alberta. The party is also in the process of building a new hospital in south Edmonton, as well as another cancer centre in Calgary.
The UCP government said wait times for surgeries – such as cataract, hip replacement and knee replacement surgeries – have only been increasing over the last three years.
According to the Canadian Institute of Health Information, in 2015, 64 per cent of patients received cataract surgery within 112 days. In 2017, 56 per cent of people received surgery within 112 days.
As for hip replacements, in 2015, 83 per cent of Albertans received a hip replacement within 182 days. The latest data from 2017, 73 per cent of patients are receiving a hip replacement within 182 days.
Wait times for hip fracture repairs, on the other hand, have gone down. In 2015, 86 per cent of people had their hips repaired in 48 hours. In 2017, 92 per cent of Albertans had hip repairs within that time frame.
CIHI reported Alberta had the highest age-adjusted healthcare costs. It also said in another report that the province had the lowest administration costs of any other province from 2016-2017.
If elected, the UCP would also contemplate more competition in the healthcare system. The party would consider allowing private companies to perform publicly funded procedures.
Some public services in Alberta are already being performed by private businesses, such as doctor’s offices owned by primary care physicians. Alberta Health Services also contracts some private businesses to perform procedures, such as eye and laser surgeries.
“This is not something new that we're talking about. We're just looking at where can we get more elements of competition to get better outcomes at better values,” said Wedman.
Hoffman accused the UCP of putting money before people’s health, noting those with more money shouldn’t be able to receive surgeries or any other procedure over someone who is in need.
“I think that there's ways we can improve and continue to invest in healthcare to make it even better, but privatization is not the solution,” she said.
Alberta Party nominee Neil Korotash said many services in Alberta, such as lab services, are already contracted to private companies.
While he does believe in a publicly funded healthcare system, Korotash said he doesn’t disagree with the UCP’s objectives.
“It seems that we have a hard time having a reasonable conversation about healthcare in this province, and in this country for that matter,” he said. “The minute you suggest private delivery or mention that ‘P’ word – private – you get labeled or get attacked.”
Korotash said he wishes healthcare could be discussed without so much opposition. Instead of finding ways to improve the system, he said people view the issue emotionally.
He said Alberta’s healthcare system has a lot of duplication of administrative roles across Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health, and he agrees with completing a review of the organizations to find where overlaps exist.
“What government needs to do is make sure that they're getting value for their dollars and make sure that the quality of the healthcare is up to par,” Korotash explained.
If the Alberta Party is elected, the party would complete an internal review of the organizations. The party would also evaluate where the government has fallen short on implementing changes requested by Alberta’s auditor general, such as reducing management of Alberta Health over AHS and providing hospitals more autonomy.
Likewise, Don Petruka, St. Albert's Alberta Advantage Party candidate, said he agreed with the UCP’s stance on completing a review on Alberta Health Services.
“Alberta healthcare, in my opinion, is a mess. I mean, we all know that we're spending more than any other province in Canada on healthcare and we’re getting less with longer wait times,” he said.
Petruka said there’s a lot of upper management across Alberta Health Services, which needs to change. If elected, administrative levels would be re-evaluated and layoffs would be the likely result.
The party would also focus on keeping families together when requiring supportive living. Often, seniors who need advanced care are separated from their spouses, with different places offering different levels of care.
Instead of having one partner sent to a facility that specializes in mobility issues and the other spouse sent to one for Alzheimer’s, he would like to see facilities with staff equipped to meet multiple levels of medical needs among patients.
When it comes to privatizing healthcare, he said he felt it’s not a “bad idea.”
“Private industry tends to work efficiently and profitably. Government-controlled industry tends to be very expensive and not very efficient,” Petruka explained.
Kevin McLean, St. Albert's Liberal Party candidate, strongly disagrees. He said even contemplating more privatized services would be opening the door for a two-tiered healthcare system, where people can pay to skip the line.
He said patients who can’t afford better healthcare would be left sick and untreated.
“We need to innovate our healthcare system. But a two-tiered system is not the way to go,” McLean expressed.
On his platform, he said the Liberal Party wants to see more funds allocated to mental health services and prevention programs.