Alberta Health Services changes to improve patient care

A reform rollout will address patient wait times, and emergency response times.

The provincial government is reforming Alberta Health Services (AHS) to improve patient care.

Alberta’s government is working to ensure the right supports are in place to improve EMS response times, decrease emergency room wait times, and reduce surgical wait times.

“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. 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,” Premier Danielle Smith said.

The first step in the AHS reform plan was to appoint Dr. John Cowell as the official administrator, who will report to Smith and Minister of Health Jason Copping.

 “I am ready to get to work on behalf of Albertans, building a better system to support patients needing care. I look forward to working with the AHS team and taking tangible actions to drive much-needed change,” Cowell said.

Cowell will work directly with the interim AHS CEO Mauro Chies, to improve EMS response times, decrease emergency room wait times, reduce wait times for surgeriesand develop long-term reforms through consultations with front-line workers.

To improve EMS response times, Cowell will work to fast-track ambulance transfers at emergency rooms so paramedics are available for more calls, use other modes of transportation for non-emergency or inter-facility transfers, empower EMS dispatch to step-down calls from 911 to Health Link based on patient need, and empower paramedics to triage whether or not a patient needs to be transferred to an ER by ambulance.

To track progress, Alberta Health will review ambulance arrival times, patient offload times at the emergency room, number of less urgent calls, and number of calls that are redirected to Health Link.

To decrease emergency room wait times, Cowell will recruit additional health professionals to improve on-site patient care and management, and transfer patients to home care, long-term, and continuing care facilities.

To reduce surgical wait times, Alberta Health will consider the utilization rate of operating rooms at AHS hospitals, and the proportion of surgeries occurring within clinically acceptable wait times, a government of Alberta media release said.

“Fixing Alberta’s health-care system requires both immediate action and long-term work. While some results will be seen more quickly, for the long-term sustainability of Alberta’s healthcare system, more fundamental changes are required,” the release said. “Cowell has been charged with ensuring that for years and generations to come, Albertans will be able to rely on their publicly funded health-care system being there when and where they need it.”

Going forward, Cowell will work to restore decision-making to the local level and local health professionals, incentivize regional innovation to provide more medical services and attract more healthcare professionals to Alberta.

The progress on developing the long-term reforms will be tracked by health service wait times, and health professional-to-population ratios.

Cowell will present a report in 90 days on the progress made in the AHS reform plan.

“We are pleased to have Dr. Cowell leading this important work. He has extensive knowledge of Alberta’s existing healthcare system and AHS. I also wish to thank all the members of the AHS board of directors for their service and dedication to Albertans,” Copping said.

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