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New continuing care launch delayed, more engagement planned for AHS overhaul: health minister

Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange speaks to CTV News Edmonton on Nov. 22, 2023. (CTV News Edmonton / John Hanson) Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange speaks to CTV News Edmonton on Nov. 22, 2023. (CTV News Edmonton / John Hanson)

The Alberta government is pushing back the roll out of one of four new agencies replacing Alberta Health Services (AHS).

Thursday, Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said the new continuing care agency agency would be delayed after public engagement sessions and feedback from stakeholders.

Continuing care was initially planned to launch in the spring alongside the new mental health and addictions organization.

However, LaGrange said continuing care stakeholders wanted more time to adjust to regulatory changes to the continuing care act, which come into effect April 1.

"While this is a change to our initial timeline of this spring, we have also said one of our guiding principles is to be flexible in the work we are doing," LaGrange said. "Meetings with continuing care stakeholders are being planned for the coming months to support this change."

Continuing care will now launch in the fall alongside the primary care and acute care organizations.

The new mental health and addictions agency will roll out as planned in the spring.

The high turnout to public engagement sessions around the AHS overhaul also prompted the province to extend the timelines for public consultation.

According to the Alberta government, more than 10,000 Albertans attended in-person and virtual engagement sessions. Another 18,000 offered feedback through "online tools."

The province has added 22 in-person sessions for a total of 65. Of those, two have been held in Edmonton, while four have been held in or announced for Calgary. 

"In addition to public engagement sessions, we will have dedicated information-gathering sessions this spring with Indigenous leaders to discuss the unique healthcare needs and challenges facing Indigenous, Métis and Inuit people and communities within Alberta," LaGrange said.

The extended engagement sessions will run until mid-April. For more information, or to register for a session, head to the Government of Alberta website

New parliamentary secretary

The new parliamentary secretary for health workforce engagement, Chelsae Petrovic, was introduced at Thursday's update.

Petrovic, MLA for Livingstone-Macleod and a former licenced practical nurse, has been hired to help build relationships with front-line health-care workers during the revamp.

The Alberta NDP criticized the choice, citing Petrovic's 2023 appearance on The Canadian Story podcast.

"Maybe the reason you had a heart attack was because you haven't taken care of yourself," Petrovic said at around 38 minutes in. "You're extremely overweight, you haven't managed your congestive heart failure.

"You haven't managed your diabetes and there's no personal accountability. But they come into the hospital and it's all of a sudden it's everyone else's problem but their own."

In response to backlash after her appearance, Petrovic said she was advocating for a less reactive health-care system and should have "chosen better language."

On Thursday, she chose not to answer a question about the controversial quote.

"I addressed that over a year ago and I stand by that statement. My focus right now is to create a positive relationship with our front line staff and workers," Petrovic said.

In a press release Thursday, NDP health critic Dr. Luanne Metz said Petrovic's appointment shows "poor judgment"

"The role of government should be to ensure people have public health care when and where they need it, not to judge people for their health conditions," Metz said in a press release.

Family medicine

Alberta physician Dr. Parker Vandermeer was unimpressed with the update, saying he doesn't believe the new four-agency system is the answer to the current health-care crisis.

"It's been years of quiet cuts, gaslighting and funding taken away," Vandermeer said. "The existing system is not perfect, but it has been destroyed by this government … While they're suggesting these new systems, which in a medium- to long-term might be a great thing to add to the available options, we need action right now."

In February, the Alberta Medical Association estimated 800,000 Albertans were without a family physician.

Thursday, LaGrange said 330 new doctors came to Alberta in 2023 and that work was underway on a new physician funding model to help address issues in primary care.

"It certainly doesn't feel like it," Vandermeer said. "How many physicians have retired, how many have left? How many have reduced the services they offer, the hours they're working?

"In my experience, I would say there are certainly fewer Albertans with a family doctor now than there was a year ago."

Emergency funding for family physicians was given to the AMA in January after a ThinkHQ survey of AMA members found 61 per cent of family doctors were considering leaving Alberta or retiring early.

Another $100 million in stabilization funding is expected in the spring.

 With files from The Canadian Press and CTV News Calgary's Bill Macfarlane. Top Stories

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