Dr. Chris Eagle has decided to step down as president and CEO of Alberta Health Services (AHS) midway through his five-year contract.

“This is a personal and very difficult decision, but it is one that is right for me and for our organization,” said Eagle in a release.

 “I have spent the last three years leading AHS, the largest health-care authority in the country, and it has been my privilege to have had that opportunity. This has been by far the most challenging work of my career, and it has also been the most rewarding.” 

His time there has seen expense scandals, high profile resignations and frequent restructuring.

In a letter announcing his resignation on Thursday, Eagle said it was "time for fresh eyes and fresh energy at the helm of AHS."

AHS oversees Alberta's publicly-funded health-care system. 

"On behalf of government, I thank Dr. Eagle for his service to our province and personal commitment to the care of Albertans," said Health Minister Fred Horne in a written statement.

Duncan Campbell, a senior AHS official, has been appointed as acting CEO and president until the position is filled. No severance will be paid as part of this process.

AHS structure criticized

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees president Guy Smith says the departure of Eagle highlights the government's failure to bring stability to the provincial health system.

'They will compound it if they try to think they can just hire a new person into the same old structure and get better results. The structure is the problem. It sets people up for failure.'- Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith

"In a matter of months, Health Minister Fred Horne has appointed a deputy minister of health to oversee AHS performance, an interim and then full-time chief administrator to replace the AHS board, and now we are looking forward to the third AHS CEO in five years," said Smith in a release.

"It all leads one to question the independence of AHS. If the government is intent on keeping its hands on the organization, it is time to end the instability by bring the organization and its staff directly into the health department."

He said the health system faces significant problems, such as ER wait times and increased need for seniors care.

"Without clear leadership and accountability in our health system, we aren't going to solve them," said Smith.

"Front-line employees can't have confidence in their organization when there are constant questions about its leadership. Since its inception that clear leadership has been missing, and it has been to the detriment of the quality of our health care."

Opposition parties agree with Smith that one reason Eagle is leaving is because of government meddling.

It was just last week that he apologized for troubles within home care after service disruptions to roughly 300 home-care patients in Edmonton.

Apology last straw, says Liberal MLA

Liberal health critic David Swann believes that was the last straw for Eagle.

Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith says big changes are needed.

"I think this is no surprise," she said. "They will compound it if they try to think they can just hire a new person into the same old structure and get better results. The structure is the problem. It sets people up for failure."

Eagle will take five months off before working with Cowell to determine his future role under his $580,000 salary until he formally leaves the organization in October 2014. 

"AHS must also develop a new and improved culture of engagement to ensure that our stakeholders, and our staff and physicians, are fully involved in planning and decision-making," said Eagle. "These are not insignificant challenges."

He will also be returning to work in the area of patient safety, something he has made a priority during his time as the head of AHS.

"I understand and respect his decision to take some time for rest and reflection and to consider other opportunities," said Cowell in a release.

"I am glad to say over the next year, once he takes some much-needed and earned vacation time and some time to explore an area that is near and dear to him – patient safety – we will look into various ways he can continue to contribute to the health of Albertans."