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Alberta Health Minister fires AHS board

EDMONTON –Health Minister Fred Horne announced Wednesday morning that the government terminated the board and chair of Alberta Health Services following Tuesday’s vote on executive bonuses.

In a vote Tuesday afternoon, the AHS board decided to stand by its decision to award bonuses for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, despite a request from the province to reconsider.

“Albertans elected us to ensure government – and its agencies and boards – live within their means,” said Horne Wednesday.

“At a time when we’ve asked our front-line providers, including doctors, teachers, and support workers to take freezes in pay, the unwillingness of the AHS’ Board to reconsider its decision on pay-at-risk is completely out-of-step with the government’s priorities – and more importantly, the priorities of Albertans.”

He said the unwillingness of the AHS board to reconsider its stance on bonus was “unacceptable.”

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“Earlier this morning, I informed the AHS board chair and the members of the AHS board that I am terminating their appointments, effective immediately and thanked them for their service,” said Horne.

Board chair Stephen Lockwood told Global News he is “disappointed” in Horne’s decision, but “doesn’t regret” the decision the board made in Tuesday’s vote.

He said, until Wednesday, he felt AHS was an arm’s-length agency.

The “best chance to create a sustainable, publicly-funded, quality system was with the arm’s-length governance model we had,” said Lockwood.

He added it will be up to the minister to determine the direction moving forward.

After announcing the AHS board had been terminated, Horne said Janet Davidson had been appointed interim administrator to act in place of the board. The minister said Davidson is a nurse by training, with over 30 years of direct experience in health care administration and governance in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.

Horne explained that Tuesday’s vote and comments made following it raised “serious questions as to whether the board can continue to function effectively and work collaboratively with government and other community stakeholders.”

In the vote, six board members voted in favour of the bonuses, with three members abstaining. Board chair Stephen Lockwood says AHS must honour its previous contractual commitments.

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The vote came after Health Minister Fred Horne released a statement, in which he asks AHS not to award bonuses to its executives.

Horne said Tuesday the payouts aren’t appropriate at a time when the province is exercising restraint and asking front-line staff, such as doctors and teachers, to accept a pay freeze.

Horne called the decision to hand out bonuses “completely out of step with the times.”

AHS is an arm’s-length organization of the Health Department and oversees day-to-day care.

While the organization is separate from Alberta Health, it still reports to the minister.

When asked about the issue of AHS operating as an independent agency, Horne replied that delegating authority to the AHS board doesn’t abdicate the government of responsibility. He said the government must step in if something is wrong.

Horne said Wednesday there are no severance provisions for board members.

The province said Tuesday a review of the agencies, boards and commissions which serve government will take place.  As administrator, Davidson will also review the decision made by the AHS board Tuesday regarding bonuses.

NDP leader Brian Mason said he was surprised by Horne’s decision to remove the AHS board, but added he thinks it’s a good first step.

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“It’s time that Alberta Health Services was brought back in house and made once again part of the department of health and wellness,” he said Wednesday. “The corporate model… is not appropriate for the delivery of such a critical public service.”

Mason said the government should look at a bigger structural change.

“I think it would make sense to take this opportunity and replace the board with a deputy minister, who’s accountable to the minister, who’s accountable to the legislative assembly. That’s how we should be operating our health care system.”

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