Frontline workers, members of the public and others are having their say at in-person engagement sessions throughout Alberta, as the province gears up for its previously announced revamp of health-care delivery.George Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Calling it an issue that’s “near and dear to my heart,” Livingstone-Macleod MLA Chelsae Petrovic said she’s digging deep into the health-care needs of her riding as a new delivery system takes shape in Alberta.

Petrovic said she’s speaking with frontline workers and touring health-care facilities to get as complete a picture as she can before heading to Edmonton for the reconvening of the legislature Feb. 28. Her work coincides with in-person public engagement sessions the UCP government is holding throughout the province to flesh out plans announced last year.

The government will reorganize Alberta Health Services into four groups: primary care, acute care, continuing care, and mental health and addiction. Legislation to dismantle and replace Alberta Health Services is expected to reach the legislature before it breaks for summer.

Livingstone-Macleod MLA Chelsae Petrovic discusses what she’s learning about health care in her riding.

Livingstone-Macleod engagement sessions were held earlier this year in Crowsnest Pass, Pincher Creek, High River and Claresholm. Petrovic attended all four.

She said the sessions taught her plenty. “There’s always uniqueness to each community, even though some of them are just 20 or 30 minutes apart,” said Petrovic, who worked as licensed practical nurse before entering provincial politics as a UCP candidate. “It’s actually pretty amazing how needs differ from community to community.”

Dozens of in-person engagement sessions lie ahead across the province – as early as Thursday, Feb. 15, in Athabasca and Slave Lake, and Friday, Feb. 16, in Westlock and Whitecourt, and as late as March 25 in Coronation and Hanna and March 26 in Consort and Provost.

Petrovic, a first-term MLA, said in a Feb. 5 interview that much of the uniqueness of each community’s challenges stems from the services each provides and its access to those it doesn’t. Fort Macleod Health Centre offers emergency, dialysis and home-care services, for example. Crowsnest Pass is remote enough that residents face a three-hour drive to see a cardiologist.

Claresholm, a town of 3,800 people where Petrovic was once mayor, has about 600 full-time, part-time and casual health-care employees for 284 inpatient beds across four facilities – acute care, mental health, detox and long-term care – plus multiple community services.

High River may be just 30 minutes from the south side of Calgary, but its health-care centre provides surgery, maternity care and palliative care. Pincher Creek has a unique funding model with its physicians, which Petrovic said in coming weeks she’ll be looking into deeply.

The MLA plans to meet frontline workers throughout the constituency. “I want to talk to the health care aides, I want to talk to the LPNs (licensed practical nurses), I want to talk to the RNs, I want to talk to the physicians. And I want to see the state of these hospitals.”

On tap were tours of facilities in Fort Macleod, Pincher Creek, Claresholm, High River and Nanton. Petrovic also hoped to visit Aakom-Kiyii Health Services in Brocket, to “highlight even more of the unique needs across the riding.”

Petrovic worked more than 13 years in health care. She started as a nursing student in Claresholm, before transferring after about 11 years to the Fort Macleod emergency department. Most recently she was with the Piikani Nation’s Aakom-Kiyii.

Her interest in health care comes from her professional experience, from having friends and relatives still working in the system, and from being a regular citizen and health care user, she said.

The MLA appreciates the range of opinions and information she heard at engagement sessions, and how the ministry is running them. Mediators recorded responses and helped attendees focus their thoughts. “To have that open, honest feedback I think is going to be really beneficial for the minister and her team, and I think for Albertans across the board, too.”

The four engagement sessions in Livingstone-Macleod attracted 180 attendees, a spokesperson for Alberta Health said. “We’re very pleased with the level of engagement and desire of health-care workers, patients, families and caregivers to participate,” said press secretary Andrea Smith in an emailed statement.

“Through these engagement sessions, we have heard loud and clear that health-care workers and Albertans want to be involved in every step of the refocusing process,” she said. Consultations will continue to “make sure the new system is informed by those on the frontlines and the people who rely on it.”

Petrovic encourages those Albertans who haven’t been involved in the conversation to start taking part now. “It’s our health care. And I think that voicing our concerns, our opinions and our experiences is really going to help shape the way we go. There are no more engagements within my riding. But that doesn’t stop people from being able to go online and voice their opinion, or to reach out to my office and voice their opinion for me to be able to take back to the minister.”

Reach Petrovic at 587-424-2004 or by emailing livingstone.macleod@assembly.ab.ca. You can also visit https://www.alberta.ca/shape-the-way to find out more, take a survey, listen to recordings of five telephone town halls, and register for remaining in-person engagement sessions.

Petrovic has confidence in Health Minister Adriana LaGrange. “I was probably her biggest critic when it comes to this,” Petrovic said.

But LaGrange won her over, after Petrovic shared problems and scenarios. “She gave me hope for the future of health care.”

The signals were good before Petrovic was even elected, she said. “When Danielle Smith first won the leadership, she said she’s going to start fixing health care and do it within 90 days. She made changes to our ambulance services, and as a frontline emergency nurse, I can tell you, I was frustrated.”

Around the time Petrovic referenced, Emergency Medical Services added 39 frontline staff in Alberta, including paramedics, emergency communications officers and supervisors. Response times in urban, rural and remote communities started to improve soon after, according to a 90-day report of an initiative the government launched on Nov. 17, 2022, called the Healthcare Action Plan.

“I was thinking, here we go, more changes. What’s this going to look like? But the changes were for the better and I noticed the difference.”

If spending, staffing, and bricks and mortar are any indication, a complicated project lies ahead. Health spending in Alberta was on track to total about $42 billion or more than $9,000 per person in 2023, a study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information forecasted late last year. Roughly 70 per cent of that comes from governments and other public sector sources.

In 2023, the province budgeted $16.7 billion for Alberta Health Services, which includes facilities and staffing, plus another $6.2 billion for physician compensation and $2 billion for drugs and supplemental health, the health ministry said at the time of the institute’s report.

AHS has about 112,000 direct employees, not including contracted service providers and employees of its wholly owned subsidiaries, the AHS website says. It has 106 acute care hospitals and more than 8,600 acute care beds across Alberta, more than 29,000 continuing care beds or spaces, five stand-alone psychiatric facilities, about 3,200 addiction and mental health beds or spaces, and equity partnerships in 40 primary care networks.

All told, more than 900 AHS facilities offer programs and services throughout the province, including hospitals, clinics, continuing care facilities, cancer centres, mental health facilities and community health sites.

Petrovic says Alberta’s new delivery model holds opportunity for improvement because, for one, it allows specialization in what the government calls four pillars. “To have specialized focus areas I think is phenomenal. I think this will allow different areas to really flourish.” Various specialties should “really, really shine.”

As for those friends she has still working in the system, Petrovic believes restructuring represents forward momentum in their work lives. “I feel confident enough to look them in the eye and say, you know, it’s going to be okay. It really is.”

More Engagement Sessions

Alberta Health continues to accept registrations at dozens of in-person engagement sessions across the province.

The following list is of the remaining sessions and their dates and start times, as of the morning of Feb. 14. All sessions are two hours long.

Athabasca – Thursday, Feb. 15, 5 p.m.

Calgary – March 21, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.; March 22, 11 a.m.

Cold Lake – March 7, 9 a.m.

Consort – March 26, 9 a.m.

Coronation – March 25, 5 p.m.

Edmonton – Tuesday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m.; March 18, 3 p.m.

Edson – Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2 p.m.

Falher – March 12, 3 p.m.

Fort McMurray – March 5, 4 p.m.

Fort Saskatchewan – Wednesday, Feb. 21, 11 a.m.

Fort Vermilion – March 14, 10 a.m.

Grande Prairie – March 12, 9 a.m.

Hanna – March 25, 12 p.m.

High Level – March 14, 4 p.m.

High Prairie – March 11, 4 p.m.

Hinton – Wednesday, Feb. 14, 10 a.m.

La Crête – March 15, 10 a.m.

Lac La Biche – March 6, 1 p.m.

Lloydminster – March 8, 9 a.m.

Manning – March 13, 4 p.m.

Morinville – March 19, 10 a.m.

Peace River – March 13, 11 a.m.

Provost – March 26, 2:30 p.m.

Sherwood Park – March 19, 6 p.m.

Slave Lake – Thursday, Feb. 15, 9 a.m.

Spruce Grove – Tuesday, Feb. 20, 10 a.m.

St. Albert – Wednesday, Feb. 21, 5 p.m.

St. Paul – March 7, 3 p.m.

Vegreville – March 8, 4 p.m.

Westlock – Friday, Feb. 16, 2 p.m.

Whitecourt, Friday, Feb. 16, 9 a.m.

Register at https://www.alberta.ca/shape-the-way.

By George Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 14, 2024 at 13:33