A step backwards? The implications of carving out Mental Health and Addiction Services in Alberta

by | Apr 22, 2024 | Opinion

In March 2023, Dan Williams, Alberta’s Minister of Mental Health and Addiction, exercised his right to consume a controlled substance by quickly drinking a beer inside Alberta’s Legislative Building. He is one of many who actively support Danielle Smith’s recent initiative to separate Addiction and Mental Health from Alberta Health Services (AHS). This decision could introduce additional barriers into Alberta’s healthcare system, which is ironic given the party’s recent creation of the Minister of Red Tape Reduction role in 2022.

The legislation was introduced on  April 3, 2024. The proposed plan is to establish Recovery Alberta to replace Mental Health and Addiction services previously under AHS. Some critics see the Alberta government’s choice to remove these services from AHS as a regressive move, one that contradicts the original intent behind AHS’s establishment in 2009: to enhance efficiency, decrease bureaucracy and reduce barriers in healthcare. Ron Liepert, the health minister at the time, then stated that AHS was necessary to “ensure equitable, basic health care throughout Alberta.”

Smith’s plan involves two key elements: restructuring AHS by removing Mental Health and Addiction Services and creating the Canadian Centre of Recovery Excellence (CORE) for research and dissemination of best practices. However, this restructuring has raised concerns among the public and healthcare professionals about potential system fragmentation and complexity increases.

The United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) filed an unfair labour practice complaint on April 8, 2024, claiming that “the provincial government has stated that the plan for Recovery Alberta has been done in collaboration with AHS and front-line workers, yet no consultation or information was shared with UNA and no bargaining occurred with UNA regarding the transition.”

Similarly, on April 2, 2024, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), representing 3,500 members impacted by the changes, voiced concerns. Sandra Azocar, vice president of AUPE, emphasized that “it’s crystal clear from today’s announcement that the government feels it does not need to consult with front-line workers before executing pre-decided actions.” The AUPE also warned that the rush to reform mental health and addiction treatment “will create chaos.”

With these unions claiming dishonesty by the provincial government, questions arise about whether the government truly prioritizes the best interests of Albertans, especially when it comes to the future of our public healthcare system.

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