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Alberta Health planned to send some surgeries out of province: NDP


Emails from Sid Viner, AHS vice-president of operations and medical director of operations with Alberta Health Services, outline that there was a wide range of concerns and pushback

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Alberta Health explored plans to pilot a project that would send some surgical patients and their surgeons to a private facility in British Columbia, show freedom of information documents released by the NDP Wednesday.

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NDP Leader Rachel Notley released close to 400 pages of emails and documents from officials within Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services that discussed piloting a project that would see surgeries performed out of province at the Okanagan Health Surgical Centre. The emails are dated as being sent between October 2021 and February 2022.

“Quite frankly, the whole plan is utterly ridiculous. But as these documents show, the UCP insisted,” said Notley.

Emails from Sid Viner, AHS vice-president of operations and medical director of operations with Alberta Health Services, outline that there was a wide range of concerns and pushback from several groups of people within the health-care system towards the plan. Viner said in one email sent in November that several AHS officials believe the government wanted to move forward in the near term with out-of-province contracting and that they would need to identify several aspects of a pilot project.

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“Important to recognize this will be a pilot, and is in addition to, not instead of maximizing use of all possible capacity within Alberta. Important to keep this in mind, as I realize most staff and surgeons will wonder why this is being pursued. Again, this is direction from gov’t so need to pilot without it causing loss of focus or any disruption to maximizing the surgery we will do in Alberta,” read an email from Viner in an email dated from December.

Dr. Sid Viner, vice-president and medical director with Alberta Health Services Clinical Operations, speaks at a press conference on Thursday, March 3, 2022.
Dr. Sid Viner, vice-president and medical director with Alberta Health Services Clinical Operations, speaks at a press conference on Thursday, March 3, 2022. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

Steve Buick, press secretary for Health Minister Jason Copping, said there is no plan to contract surgeries from other provinces and there was never a decision to do so. He said the government did look at doing so as part of planning to get as many publicly-funded surgeries done as quickly as possible.

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“We decided not to pursue it,” said Buick in an email. “Other provinces have looked at similar options, because we all face the same challenge — to do more surgeries as fast as possible, to recover from the pandemic and reduce waiting lists.”

Buick said they looked at providers and options across Canada as part of contingency planning but decided to not use any of them. He said he expected most jurisdictions in Canada explored some sort of similar contingency plans.

“The B.C. option didn’t work out when we weighed all the factors — cost, burden of travel on patients, potential demands on our own providers, etc. — given we’re funding our own system to increase surgery volumes as fast as possible, and making progress,” said Buick.

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The province cancelled nearly all non-urgent surgeries during parts of the pandemic as COVID-19 cases put stress on the provincial health-care system. Spaces were converted into intensive-care units as capacity skyrocketed last fall and was well above 100 per cent of normal capacity.

AHS has been performing near-normal surgical volumes in recent months and is continuing to work towards increasing staffing capacity. The provincial surgical waitlist is at approximately 72,000 procedures, which is down from a peak of 82,000 last fall. Prior to the pandemic, the waitlist was approximately 68,000.

Buick said the province is continuing to move forward with the Alberta Surgical Initiative by funding surgeries in hospitals and Chartered Surgical Facilities, and noted cataract surgical wait times have been reduced by nearly half in the past year.

dshort@postmedia.com

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