Health ministry to cut 11,000 AHS jobs to save $600M annually after three years



a man wearing a suit and tie: Health Minister Tyler Shandro.


© Provided by Edmonton Journal
Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

Alberta plans to cut 11,000 Alberta Health Services jobs following a review in an effort to save $600 million annually.

No layoffs are anticipated for front-line clinical staff including doctors and nurses, Health Minister Tyler Shandro told Postmedia Monday, but his office confirmed around 800 jobs would be lost through attrition over the next three years. The bulk of AHS jobs lost — about 9,700 positions — will come from outsourcing jobs in laboratories, housekeeping, food services, and laundry. A minimum of one hundred management jobs will also be cut.

The minister’s office sent Postmedia an advanced copy of the review conducted by Alberta Health Services.

It will be released publicly Tuesday with a news conference at 10 a.m. Unions have been worried about major cuts in the works.

The review came in response to suggestions for cost saving and efficiencies in a February report by Ernst and Young. Alberta Health has told AHS to proceed with its plans but with some changes. Shandro said cost savings are lower than anticipated by Ernst and Young largely due to a less aggressive approach in reductions to clinical and front-line jobs.

“There may be through attrition some reductions of some of those folks, but we’re not laying off anybody, especially during the pandemic,” he said.

When asked whether the province would hold off allowing jobs to disappear through attrition until the pandemic was over, he said it is up to AHS to determine their staffing needs.

“We’re not going to tell them not to fill the position just because of resources. Our No. 1 priority is responding to the pandemic,” he said. “We’re not going to tell them to pinch pennies just because we’re trying to meet a certain target when we’re in the middle of this pandemic.”

Outsourcing to private vendors will account for AHS cutting 2,000 laboratory jobs, 4,000 housekeeping jobs, 3,000 food service jobs, and 400 laundry jobs. The province said around 70 per cent of lab results are already contracted out, as is about 68 per cent of laundry.

Shandro’s press secretary Steve Buick said outsourcing would mean a “change of employer” and not “net reductions.”

But unions have raised concerns in the past about plans to reduce public sector staff, calling the cuts “ideological.” The province had warned that cuts were coming. Health Sciences Association of Alberta said 850 full-time jobs were at risk, while United Nurses of Alberta received a letter about 500 full-time positions that would be gone by 2023.

Cost to patients for items like crutches and casts will also go up in some cases, as direct labour costs are added to billings for chargeable supplies.

Other changes in the report include streamlining non-clinical and back-office operations and making overtime and scheduling more efficient.

When asked if the province would be setting limits on overtime, Shandro said it was up to AHS, not the government.

“This is about us encouraging them to be consistent throughout all five zones and at all 100 facilities,” he said. “That is our goal, is to make sure they have internal controls and they have policies that are consistent in the province.”

The minister said while he is committed to the spirit of recommendations in February’s Ernst and Young report, it will take longer to implement —  until 2025 or 2026. But he said changes in the workforce could start next spring.

Contracting out laundry services could begin as early as next April, while Shandro said changes to the labs may not come into effect until February 2022, when a contract with Dynalife ends.

The province would still keep the ability to run some more specialized tests.

Shandro said aging health services laundry facilities needing millions of dollars worth of renovations is a factor in contracting out the services.

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@laurby