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Thousands of Alberta Health Services jobs to be cut in effort to save $600M annually

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The provincial government is cutting up to 11,000 jobs at Alberta Health Services to save money over the next three years. As Lisa MacGregor explains, the move will affect laundry and community lab services, and possibly housekeeping and food services in the future – Oct 13, 2020

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the province plans to cut thousands of Alberta Health Services jobs in an effort to save hundreds of millions of dollars.

Shandro announced Tuesday morning that upwards of 11,000 individuals will be affected by the layoffs, which are hoped to result in savings of $600 million per year once implemented.

Shandro said no front-line physician or nurse positions to be lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Premier Kenney and I have been clear, there can be no job losses for nurses or front-line clinical staff during the pandemic,” Shandro said.

“There will be no job loses for nurses or front-line clinical staff.”

Read more: Alberta Health Services review aimed at finding savings, improving performance

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Shandro said about 9,700 jobs will be lost through outsourcing support services such as laundry and community lab services. He said about 68 per cent of laundry services in the province — from Edmonton and Calgary — are already outsourced.

Click to play video 'Calgary doctors fight back amid concerns that health care in Alberta could be privatized' Calgary doctors fight back amid concerns that health care in Alberta could be privatized
Calgary doctors fight back amid concerns that health care in Alberta could be privatized – Oct 13, 2020

AHS will also develop business cases for outsourcing both environmental and food preparation services in 2022 and 2023.

Shandro said AHS has been asked to eliminate 100 management positions “at a minimum.” A full review of senior AHS executives is to be completed before the end of the fiscal year, he added.

“Out of 110,000 employees, about three per cent of them — 3,300 — are management,” Shandro said.

“The review of compensation would be for all the 3,300 management positions… including the 68 senior leaders and including the 14 on the executive team.”

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Read more: Alberta government nixes AHS review recommendation to close 5 rural hospitals, Edmonton trauma centre

The moves announced Tuesday come following recommendations made in an Ernst & Young report, which was released by the health minister in February. The $2-million report was ordered by Shandro last summer to find efficiencies while not compromising care.

There were 57 recommendations and 72 savings opportunities identified in the review to improve the quality and long-term sustainability of health services, the government said.

Following the release of the report, AHS was asked to create both a short-term and long-term implementation plan. The moves announced Tuesday are part of the long-term plan which is expected to be implemented over the next three years.

Click to play video 'Thousands of Alberta Health Services jobs to be cut' Thousands of Alberta Health Services jobs to be cut
Thousands of Alberta Health Services jobs to be cut – Oct 13, 2020

When asked directly if there would be no front-line job losses through the entire implementation of the plan, or just through the COVID-19 pandemic, Shandro responded with:

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“Quite frankly, by the time the pandemic is over, I think any involuntary reductions will be minimal,” he said, stressing “really, this is about the contracting out of certain pieces like labs and laundry, as well as the management position review.”

Shandro said AHS will also streamline non-clinical and back office operations, including optimizing distribution and inventory management and strengthening staff scheduling and overtime management systems.

“AHS is committed to respecting all collective agreement provisions and other employment terms and conditions and will be working to minimize job losses in these areas,” Shandro said.

A number of positions will be lost through attrition over the next few years, according to AHS president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu.

“We will move ahead with many of the initiatives in the review at a pace that is respectful of the current situation and also ensures that our front-line services are supported,” Yiu said.

“We are committed to high-quality patient care. We will continue to be a learning organization. We will continue to assess and reassess plans as needed. We will make sure that changes are done with a long view of a 10-year vision for health care in Alberta. We will ensure that local decision making and local input is embedded in our work. We will respect and support employees and physicians through any changes. We will make sure that change supports our patient-first strategy and that patients are engaged through the continued planning and implementation work.”

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Opposition, unions voice concerns over layoffs

NDP Leader Rachel Notley called the government’s plans “stupid” and “completely irresponsible.”

“These plans will cause harm to patients, harm to communities – particularly rural ones – and they will harm our chances for an economic recovery,” she said in a statement.

“Jason Kenney believes the Albertans who are cleaning rooms, washing bedding and preparing food in our hospitals during a pandemic are expendable to pay for his $4.7-billion corporate handout,” Notley said.

“Let’s be clear: these Albertans are front-line workers. They are heroes and they deserve better treatment from their government.

Notley doesn’t believe the layoffs are about saving money or efficiency.

“This is about destabilizing public health care and creating a path for the UCP’s extremist agenda to introduce the American-style health care that Jason Kenney and Tyler Shandro are so determined to bring to Alberta. It’s profoundly irresponsible and it’s a fundamental breach of faith with the people they were elected to serve.”

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees represents about 35,000 AHS employees. Union president Guy Smith said Shandro’s “job-killing plan” attacks health-care heroes during a pandemic.

“This brutal attack on jobs is going to hurt working Albertans and small communities across the province. This government kicks Albertans when they’re down, exploiting a pandemic that they’re failing to manage by killing jobs and endangering health care at the exact moment we need it most.”

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AUPE president Guy Smith speaks in Edmonton about AHS job cuts Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.
AUPE president Guy Smith speaks in Edmonton about AHS job cuts Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. Cam Cook, Global News

The Health Sciences Association of Alberta worries the layoffs are a move to privatize the public health-care system during a pandemic.

“This government has decided to tear apart its best line of defence against the ongoing pandemic,” HSAA president Mike Parker said in a news release. “Money isn’t being saved; it’s being transferred to private pockets instead of being used for patient care.

“Privatization costs more and could very easily result in poorer health outcomes during this pandemic and the next one.”

Parker went on to call Shandro’s announcement “shameful.”

“He has abdicated all responsibility for the health and safety of Albertans. He has instead decided his role is to fire highly-trained public health professionals in order to facilitate the transfer of our public resources into private hands,” he said.

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“These positions represent thousands of Albertans who will be added to the list of the unemployed.”

The Alberta Federation of Labour said the cuts will destroy public health care and tank the province’s economy during a recession.

“The UCP is moving ahead with the unspeakable. They are actually cutting health care during a global pandemic,” AFL president Gil McGowan said in a news release.

“Lab services have been incredibly important in the fight against COVID-19 in Alberta. It makes absolutely no sense to outsource 2,000 jobs from lab services during a global pandemic and claim it will have no impact on Albertans’ health care.”

In total, Shandro said about 11,000 individuals will be affected by the cuts. Labour costs make up about 70 per cent of AHS’ total expenses, according to Shandro.