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Dr. Verna Yiu leaving Alberta Health Services as president and CEO

Click to play video: 'Dr. Verna Yiu, Alberta Health Services part ways'
Dr. Verna Yiu, Alberta Health Services part ways
WATCH ABOVE: Dr. Vernu Yiu is no longer the president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, the health authority announced Monday morning. – Apr 4, 2022

Dr. Verna Yiu is no longer the president and CEO of Alberta Health Services.

AHS announced in a news release Monday morning the departure of Yiu and the beginning of a process to replace her as president and CEO of AHS “as the health-care system shifts to pandemic recovery and renewal.”

“We are very grateful for Dr. Yiu’s tireless leadership through the worst days of the pandemic, and we thank her for her years of dedicated service and commitment to AHS and to Albertans,” board chair Gregory Turnbull said in a news release.

“We have been planning for an orderly transition.”

Read more: Dr. Verna Yiu appointed president, CEO of Alberta Health Services for five years

Yiu has been the president and CEO of AHS since 2016. Her contract was extended in June 2021 for an additional two years. At the time, AHS said it could be further extended. Her annual salary was $573,841.

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“I have had the extraordinary privilege to lead Alberta Health Services for the past six plus years,” Yiu said in a news release. “I would like to thank all staff, physicians and volunteers for their steadfast care of Albertans and their ability to put patients and families first, particularly as we have navigated through the past two pandemic years.

“I took on this role in 2016 because I saw an opportunity to further solidify culture, teamwork, and excellence within the organization. I believed that we could develop better relationships with our patients and families, and with Alberta communities. I am so proud and grateful for all AHS team members as well as our advisory groups and councils, and all the foundations who support AHS.”

Further details of Yiu’s departure were not released by AHS.

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AHS said a committee was formed several months ago and a search for Yiu’s replacement is already underway.

“There has always been a plan to transition leadership, and on behalf of the board, we thank Dr. Yiu, her leadership team, and every AHS employee,” Turnbull said.

“We are excited about the future, and in particular, we look forward to delivering on key priorities such as the expansion of surgical and acute care services, continuing care, the EMS improvement plan, enhanced mental health programs and services and workforce recruitment and retention.”

Read more: Alberta doctors call for more COVID-19 pandemic transparency

NDP Health Critic David Shepherd thanked Yiu for serving Albertans during some of the most difficult times in the history of the province.

“You have served Albertans well through good times and bad. You guided our hospital system through waves of COVID that were far worse than they had to be due to the failures and deliberate decisions of this UCP government,” Shepherd said.

“Albertans have seen the candor she brought to COVID-19 briefings, willing to tell the truth… It’s clear to me that Dr. Yiu put health and well-being of Albertans first during an unprecedented health crisis.”

Shepherd said his phone “started to blow up” Monday with messages from doctors and other health-care workers who are shocked and disheartened by the decision.

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“These folks are struggling to hold things together even now as we may be entering the sixth wave.”

Read more: Canada headed towards 6th COVID-19 wave this spring, experts warn

In a statement, Health Minister Jason Copping thanked Yiu for her leadership over the past six years.

“It’s time to move forward with an ambitious agenda to improve and modernize the health system, and renewed leadership in Alberta Health Services will support delivering those changes,” Copping said.

“The AHS board has been planning for some time to start the recruitment process for a new CEO at the end of Dr. Yiu’s extended term. The agreement with Dr. Yiu that the board announced today will bump up the timeline for the transition and help the system move forward.

“We promised Albertans better access to surgery and a stronger publicly funded health system with better access overall. The pandemic has changed the timelines but it hasn’t changed the goals. They’re multi-year commitments and we need to move forward on them, supported by renewed leadership at AHS.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta Health Services CEO leaves top job a year before contract ends'
Alberta Health Services CEO leaves top job a year before contract ends

Political scientist Duane Bratt admits he didn’t see this coming.

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“A year ago, people really didn’t know who Verna Yiu was, but then she started to appear in the press conferences,” he said. “She raised the stakes. She looked professional, she had the numbers at her fingertips and seemed to be a very strong communicator.”

Bratt said he believes people are going to view this move through the lens of whether they like Premier Jason Kenney or not.

“Those that are suspicious of Kenney — particularly on the area of health care — are going to say that this is somehow malicious and that there’s some nefarious intent at play.

“After the COVID debacle, after fighting with doctors, after fighting with nurses, and now you’re removing one of the most credible doctors within the government system?” he said. “There’s just no trust with Kenney on health care.”

In a statement, the president of the Alberta Medical Association said Yiu has been a strong partner and supporter of quality patient care in good days and when times were more difficult.

“All Albertans witnessed her leadership during the COVID pandemic as a champion of public health measures and a passionate proponent of vaccine acceptance,” Dr. Vesta Michelle Warren said. “We thank her for her long service leading one of the largest organizations in the country. We wish her all the best for the future. We are confident she will succeed wherever her path may take her.”

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Before her appointment as president and CEO, Yiu was the vice president of quality and chief medical officer at AHS.

Mauro Chies, vice president of Cancer Care Alberta and Clinical Support Services, has been appointed to serve as interim CEO on a temporary basis.

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