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Alberta Health Services requiring new positions to get executive approval

Alberta Health Services (AHS) has put in what a health care workers association calls a hiring freeze for non-clinical positions for the rest of its fiscal year to help with forecasted budget overruns.

Any new non-clinical job postings or interviews will require the CEO’s approval, and clinical positions will require the thumbs up from senior management.

“That’s not to say that we won’t be hiring into those types of positions” CEO Athana Mentzelopoulos said Thursday. “I cannot stress enough that we are still actively recruiting for and hiring front-line health care positions.”

In an internal FAQ sent earlier this week, AHS addressed its “additional cost management strategies” the health care authority said was due to an operating deficit.

“Significant restrictions on non-clinical hirings were put in place January 2024 and have had an impact; however, additional measures are required to aggressively address our current deficit position before the end of the 2023/24 fiscal year,” the AHS FAQ reads.

It said that effective immediately, all recruitment of management and non-clinical support positions were paused, affecting AHS, Alberta Precision Labs, Carewest and Capital Care.

The memo said any postings and interviews for senior leader, management, non-union positions, and union positions and interviews doing non-clinical work should be cancelled, with any exceptions requiring the approval of the AHS CEO.

Postings and interviews for union positions doing clinical and clinical support work can continue once they receive the approval of a senior operating officer or equivalent.

Speaking to the media on Thursday afternoon, Mentzelopoulos refused to answer how much AHS is projected to be running over budget. She also did not say if AHS asked for budget backstopping from the province.

“We get a budget from government, and the expectation is that we will manage to the budget,” the AHS CEO said. “At the current time we are not and we are making every effort in a responsible way to come in on budget.”

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Mentzelopoulos said AHS was forecast to be over budget “as a result of additional clinical staffing costs”: overtime that resulted from covering existing staffing vacancies.

She also said the goal was to not rely on agency nursing at all, by hiring permanent nurses to AHS.

On Thursday, the AHS jobs webpage listed more than 1,200 openings.

In a statement, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) said it received reports of AHS cancelling recruitment for “critical frontline health-care positions” in areas including diagnostics and therapeutic services.

“We are very concerned that just a few months into the restructuring of health care, commitments made by this government to health-care professionals are not being honoured and addressing the staffing crisis is not the top priority,” Leanne Alfaro, VP of HSAA, said in a statement.

On Nov. 8, 2023, Premier Danielle Smith announced sweeping changes to the province’s health-care system, including breaking health care delivery up into four areas of acute care, primary care, continuing care, and mental health and addiction. AHS’ primary focus was assigned to acute care and continuing care.

“When the government announced their plans to restructure health care, they were clear with HSAA and Albertans that they shared our concerns about staffing levels,” Alfaro said. “The Minister of Health committed to working on increasing the front lines of health care and made assurances that they were not planning any job losses.

“Implementing procedures that you have to go up to some of the highest authorities within a very large organization, such as Alberta Health Services, for any hiring we believe equates to a hiring freeze.”

Alfaro said the more than month-long hiring freeze could result in a “significant setback” in recruiting that “could take years to recover from.” She also expected wait lists to continue to grow..

“Our question to the Minister of Health is simple: How can you be committed to addressing the staffing crisis and growing the front line of health care when implementing a hiring freeze?”

In a statement on social media Thursday afternoon, Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said the AHS decision will have “no impact on our frontline, clinical health care workers.”

“As Minister of Health, I remain extremely thankful for the work of everyone in our health care system, especially on the front lines,” the health minister’s statement reads.

“I am committed to growing the workforce so Albertans get the best care possible when they need it most.”

Mentzelopoulos suggested the types of positions that could be affected by the more complicated job posting and interview process were the likes of project manager, IT consultants and budget analysts, “the ones that are not determinedly not clinical or clinical support.”

The AHS CEO also said they’ve put in “vacation management guidelines” for non-union staff “to help reduce current fiscal year expenses.”

The Opposition’s health critic said the province’s health care system is in “chaos because it is understaffed” and put the hiring freeze at Smith’s feet.

“What this means is Albertans won’t get the health care they need, agonizingly long wait times won’t come down, and patients will continue to sit in overcrowded emergency rooms,” Dr. Luanne Metz, MLA for Calgary-Varsity, said in a statement.

“Albertans deserve public health care that is there for them when they need it, with sufficient staff to run and support the system.”

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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