Alberta owes $9.5m in severance to health employees

Alberta restructures AHS, paying severance while health care faces rising wait times and costs

Alberta owes $9.5m in severance to health employees

Alberta must pay about $9.5m in severance to health employees terminated in the last fiscal year as part of the United Conservative Party’s effort to overhaul the province’s medical system, according to The Globe and Mail.  

Alberta Health Services (AHS) reported in its compensation disclosure for the year ending March 31 that the seven senior executives let go last fall will receive $5.22m collectively. In total, Alberta owes severance to 33 former AHS employees, up from 23 the previous year.   

Premier Danielle Smith, during the 2023 spring election and the 2022 UCP leadership contest, pledged to revamp AHS by eliminating what she saw as a sluggish layer of middle managers and an ineffective executive team.  

Although this effort, partly driven by Smith’s dissatisfaction with how health officials managed the coronavirus pandemic, has yet to yield tangible results for patients, costs are rising.   

According to the AHS compensation disclosure and the 2023-24 annual report for Alberta Health, Alberta owes $1.38m in severance to Mauro Chies, the former president and CEO of AHS.  

Chies, who served as interim CEO since April 2022 and was appointed president and CEO in March 2023, was terminated in November.  

His severance package includes salary payments until November 2025. François Bélanger, the former vice-president of quality and chief medical officer, received $1.07m in severance.   

The government spent more than $13.3m on “health care system refocusing efforts” in the last fiscal year, as stated in Alberta Health’s annual report.  

Although the report did not specify if severance payments were included, it mentioned that the refocusing efforts involved town halls. It also included reviewing “AHS’ key functions, accountabilities, and expenditures” to determine the best alignment for the refocused system.  

This review included transferring some AHS functions to new sector-based health organizations.   

The UCP is currently restructuring AHS into four parts: primary care, acute care, continuing care, and mental health and addictions. Recovery Alberta, which will handle mental health and addictions, launched on July 1, and will transition its operations this fall.   

In November 2022, Smith appointed John Cowell as AHS’s administrator, replacing the board. Smith tasked Cowell with strengthening AHS, but he was replaced before any significant improvements were seen, and the government announced plans to create four new organizations.  

Cowell received $436,000 in fiscal 2024 and $267,000 the previous year. His tenure ended with the announcement of a new board and the dismissal of AHS’s senior executives in November.  

Lyle Oberg, appointed chair during the autumn shakeup, earned $155,000 in fiscal 2024, while his predecessor, who served from December 2021 to November 2022, earned $43,000 in fiscal 2023. Alberta did not respond to questions about the compensation gap.   

Alberta’s health care system, like those in other parts of the country, has faced pressure for years, exacerbated by government disputes with health care professionals and a rapidly growing population. Smaller emergency departments often close temporarily due to staff shortages.  

Some cancer patients struggle to access treatment quickly, and earlier this year, the province briefly halted its participation in a national kidney-donation program due to a lack of anesthesiologists.   

The wait time to see a physician in Alberta’s emergency departments increased to 6.7 hours in 2023-24 from 6.2 hours the previous year. Alberta attributed the longer wait to an increase in patients with the “highest level of acuity” requiring aggressive interventions, such as cardiac arrest or major trauma.  

Total visits to Alberta’s emergency departments rose by 2 percent, with a 13 percent increase in patients with the highest level of acuity.   

At the end of 2023, Alberta had 1,738 registered physicians, a net gain of 331, or 2.9 percent, compared to the previous year. Alberta’s population reached 4.69 million at the end of last year, up 4 percent from 4.51 million the year before, according to Statistics Canada.   

The province’s 39 chartered surgical facilities, privately owned but publicly funded, conducted about 62,400 surgeries in fiscal 2024, up from 47,400 the previous year. These facilities accounted for 20.5 percent of publicly funded surgeries in Alberta, up from 16.2 percent in 2022-23.