HomeColumnsFrom the CEO's DeskIntegration is the key to success

Integration is the key to success

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By Dr. Verna Yiu

Saskatchewan recently became the third province in Canada to move towards a single Provincial Health Authority, a move that has naturally put focus on what we do in Alberta.

We wish our friends to the east well, and are happy to share our experiences with them.

Alberta was the first province in Canada to implement a single, provincewide, fully integrated health system, a move which has benefited patient care to all Albertans.

AHS officially came into being in April 2009, and immediately became the largest healthcare system in the country. The organization is responsible for delivering healthcare services to more than four million Albertans, as well as to some residents of Saskatchewan, B.C., and the Northwest Territories.

AHS has more than 108,000 employees and almost 10,000 physicians, working in 106 acute care hospitals, five stand-alone psychiatric facilities, and more than 500 other healthcare facilities including cancer centres, clinics and continuing care.

We also provide home care services for more than 115,000 Albertans.

We have partnership in 42 Primary Care Networks that provide access to multi-disciplinary teams, including family doctors. And, we partner with private business and academic institutions to drive research and innovation.

AHS is the largest employer in Alberta, and the fifth largest employer in Canada. But, our greatest accomplishments are not the result of our size. They are the result of our integration – where we integrate, we succeed. And most important of all, our accomplishments are the result of our people.

A great example of the benefits of a single health system was our response to last year’s Fort McMurray wildfire. Because we are integrated and function as one, we were able to quickly and effectively mobilize resources from across the province.

Our physicians, staff and volunteers at Northern Lights Regional Health Centre safely evacuated more than 100 patients and clients from the facility in less than two hours. They transported these patients and clients to safety, and provided them the care they needed.

Our people also set up a mobile hospital and the first mobile operating room in Fort Mac to support first responders, emergency crews and others still working in the area.

Our people in facilities across the province made sure those displaced Albertans who needed immediate care — such as expectant moms and dialysis patients — got that care without delay or interruption.

And our people — our caring and compassionate people — also welcomed displaced Albertans into their homes, and were generous with their time and money in order to ease the burden of others.

One month after this biggest medical evacuation in Alberta history, the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre was once again fully operational and serving residents of the Wood Buffalo area. Our people work with utmost compassion, with Albertans at the centre of all that they do.

Seeing our people overcome these challenges, I know nothing is beyond our grasp when our people pull together.

Over our eight-year history, we have integrated acute care, cancer care, surgical care, continuing care, home care, primary care, addiction and mental health services, public and population health, and Emergency Medical Services.

This was done with the intent of providing seamless care for Albertans during every phase of their lives, by spreading and implementing best practices across the province.

The move towards a single healthcare system was a massive task, and not without challenges. In retrospect, the amalgamation could have been planned more deliberately.

It required hard work, ingenuity, dedication, and patience from all of our staff, physicians and volunteers. But, we also know that it was the right thing to do, for our patients.

We have heard the concerns that we are too urban-centric, that much of our focus is on Calgary and Edmonton, and that decisions were being made without input from communities.

We agree that we swung too far towards centralization. We forgot to really listen to all of our communities and stakeholders.

These challenges highlight the need to be flexible and fluid. We are now working hard to support decision-making in the hands of local decision makers, and to ensure we hear all voices and listen to all residents from across the province.

We have a new Board in place, with deep roots in communities and not just in our cities.

We are rebuilding these connections through our Health and Provincial Advisory Councils and our Wisdom Council, made up of Albertans from across the province who have a direct line to our executive and our Board. We realize the importance of these grassroots connections, and value their feedback.

It is imperative that, in creating one system, the ability to include everyone is not lost or ignored.

It is estimated the move to one organization saved taxpayers approximately $600 million in administrative costs upon amalgamation, and these efficiencies continue to this day. Before AHS, Alberta taxpayers footed the bill for 12 separate health entities with 12 separate administrative functions.

By consolidating business functions, AHS is able to redirect hundreds of millions of dollars back into patient care while bending the cost curve downwards. We have the lowest healthcare administrative costs in the country, approximately 27% lower than the national average.

And that’s where the most important advantage of a single, provincewide, fully integrated health system begins and ends – with our patients. That is also where our greatest asset is – the people who provide our patients and resident with excellent and timely care, every hour of every day.

We know our challenges continue. But we are confident Alberta Health Services is in a strong position now more than ever to improve patient care, outcomes and experiences.

And, now more than ever, we are certain that a single provincial healthcare system is the best way to do that.


Dr. Verna Yiu, is President and CEO of Alberta Health Services.


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