February 16, 2016 2:58 pm

Former Alberta premier begins post as Covenant Health board chair

Retiring Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach is shown at his farm near Mundare, Alberta, on Friday, August 19, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Ulan

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Ulan
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In 2012, one year after stepping down as premier, Ed Stelmach joined the Covenant Health board. Four years later, he became board chair.

Stelmach officially started his new post Jan. 1, 2016.

The 65-year-old farmer from Vegreville served as Alberta’s 13th premier from 2006 to 2011. Prior to that, he served five terms as the MLA for Vegreville.

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Covenant Health runs 18 health care facilities across the province, including the Grey Nuns and Misericordia hospitals in Edmonton. It is the largest Catholic health care provider in Canada. Its first facility – Youville Home in St. Albert – was founded by the Sisters of Charity (Grey Nuns) of Montreal. Covenant Health in its current form was created in 2008 when 16 sites under the Alberta Catholic Health Corporation were consolidated.

The Covenant Health website says Stelmach – in his role as premier – was instrumental in that move. “He helped navigate various agreements and legislation as Catholic health care made the transition from the Sisters’ leadership to the current structure.”

In 2008, Stelmach slashed the number of health authorities in Alberta from nine to one: a super-board that became Alberta Health Services. The goal was to deliver “seamless service” across the province, no matter if you lived in a big city or in rural Alberta. It was also an attempt to save money and improve outcomes.

In June 2013, then health minister Fred Horne announced the government had fired the entire AHS board. The decision came after a vote on executive bonuses.

READ MORE: Alberta health minister fires AHS board 

In March 2015, seven years after Stelmach collapsed the various health regions and centralized care, Premier Jim Prentice reversed course. He said decentralization of health care was the way to go.

After the NDP toppled the PC’s 44-year reign, new health minister Sarah Hoffman created a new AHS board that October.

READ MORE: Minister of health Sarah Hoffman reveals new AHS board 

In his new position as Covenant Health board chair, Stelmach has a number of key issues in front of him. For years, there have been calls to repair, upgrade or replace ageing Edmonton hospitals, including the Misericordia, which has seen floods and clogged drainage lines.

Another timely issue: the Supreme Court ruling that Canadians with grievous and irremediable medical conditions who are enduring intolerable suffering have a right to die with a doctor’s help – and that Canada’s criminal prohibition on assisted death violates those rights. The Supreme Court gave the federal and provincial governments one year to respond. In January Ottawa said it needed more time, so a four month extension was granted.

READ MORE: Alberta Catholic church stresses opposition to ‘morally wrong’ physician-assisted death 

On Feb. 11, Covenant Health released a statement on the same day the Catholic Bishops of Alberta publicly opposed physician-assisted death. The health group emphasized its “long-standing moral tradition in Catholic health care that neither prolongs dying nor hastens death.” It said it would “continue to provide quality, palliative end-of-life care.”

Covenant Health Statement

 

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