A third-party review commissioned by the Alberta government to look into its initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic has come up with five recommendations for the province to consider as it continues to navigate the unprecedented public health crisis.
The report was posted on the government’s website late Friday afternoon. Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced earlier this week he would be releasing the report in its entirety after a media report was published, suggesting the report would not be released unless it was combined with future reports to be done on the government’s handling of the crisis.
The review, completed by KPMG, looks at the province’s handling of the pandemic “and related activities” between March 2020 and Oct. 12, 2020, a period the report’s authors define as the “first wave” of the pandemic.
The 136-page report begins by acknowledging that “no jurisdiction’s existing planning or preparedness could have been ‘fit for purpose’ to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
Throughout the report, examples of successes are cited, such as the province being able to redeploy bed capacity throughout the system, managing to return to “a pre-pandemic rate of surgeries during the first wave sooner than most other provinces,” managing rates of infection at continuing care facilities with its single-site worker policy and demonstrating “adaptability and successes during the first wave” when it came to managing PPE supply, just to name a few.
Below is a look at the five recommendations highlighted in the report.
Ongoing analysis and stakeholder engagement
The report concludes that Alberta’s COVID-19 response “will continue to require adaptation and changes in health and economic measures over time,” and stresses the importance of listening to the voices of different stakeholders when making decisions.
Comprehensive review of pandemic response
The report recommends that the government conduct a comprehensive review of its pandemic response once its vaccination program is well underway.
It suggests that review should explore the differences between Alberta’s response to the first wave of COVID-19 with subsequent waves, including by looking at the effectiveness of its distribution of vaccines and its communication efforts with regard to vaccines, the impact of the pandemic and the response to it on health-care workers, the impact on mental health and deferred medical procedures, testing and contact tracing and how capacity to do those things changes over time, impacts on vulnerable people in society and economic impacts.
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Supporting health-care labour capacity
The KPMG report recommends that the provincial government “continue to demonstrate adaptability in addressing workforce needs.”
“It will be important to monitor mental health and wellness of the workforce, particularly as deaths in the system increase,” the report adds.
Increase uptake when it comes to supports for businesses
When it comes to small- and medium-sized businesses, the report recommends Alberta come up with a way of increasing uptake when it comes to supports aimed at benefiting them.
“The combination of low uptake, observable economic decline and concern about viability of businesses going forward suggest that available funding should be maximized,” the report finds.
“This may require sector engagement and/or adjustment to thresholds.”
Working with municipalities on responding to the pandemic
When it comes to working with municipalities in the province, the report notes that the province’s implementation of public health measures could be more effective “through closer collaboration and increased two-way communication.”
“The review to date has identified numerous instances where close communication between municipalities, the province and/or AHS has been required. Examples were identified of positive, productive collaborations — and also of opportunities missed,” the report reads.
“Larger municipalities are already contributing significant resources and support to the implementation of provincial measures — as well as to addressing local circumstances and community needs. This work could be more effective, efficient and better aligned through closer collaboration and increased two-way communication.”
Health minister’s office responds to review
When asked for a response to the report, a spokesperson for Shandro’s office, Brett Boyden, issued a statement to Global News that said “the report shows Alberta was on the right track and on par with other provinces dealing with the early stages of an unprecedented global pandemic.”
“Alberta has made significant progress on recommendation No. 3 (supporting health-care labour capacity),” Boyden said. “Over the last year, Alberta Health Services filled more than 1,000 vacancies for registered nurses. In fact, AHS employs 1,700 more RNs today than in 2019.
“We want to thank KPMG for their work on this report, which will help inform Alberta’s approach to widespread emergencies in the future.”
Official Opposition responds to report
Following the release of the report, the Official Opposition suggested it believes the government has not followed through on KPMG’s recommendations to date,
“What we see in this report is that (Premier) Jason Kenney was warned back in January, if not earlier, about the issues we are currently facing and despite clear recommendations, he did nothing to prevent them,” NDP Deputy Leader Sarah Hoffman said in a written statement.
“While I will be reviewing the report’s recommendations further, it is abundantly clear that Jason Kenney and the United Conservatives failed Albertans in the first wave, learned nothing from the second wave and ignored these recommendations ahead of the third wave.”
Hoffman also questioned why the report was not made public months ago and why it was released late on a Friday afternoon once it eventually was made public.