The Alberta government has slashed the number of health authorities in the province from nine to one, Health Minister Ron Liepert announced Thursday.
The change is the first phase of the Conservatives' plan to reshape the province's health-care system.
The new agency, called the Alberta Health Services Board, will also take control of the Cancer Board, the Mental Health Board, and the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission.
The change is effective immediately.
Liepert said the move to one board would create "seamless" service for Albertans.
"MLAs have brought to me instances of where one side of the road in one of the regions delivers services different than people who live on the other side of the road," he said.
"Those are the kinds of things we need to ensure don't happen in the system because an Albertan is an Albertan and should receive seamless service across the province."
The announcement comes a day after Premier Ed Stelmach speculated about the change, saying many Albertans feel the province can streamline the administration of health care and use the money for front-line services.
At the time Stelmach said details of the plan would not come until next month.
The new board will report directly to the minister, Liepert said, with community input provided by new community health councils.
The makeup of the new board will be announced later, but Liepert is appointing a seven-member transition team in the interim.
"The new ... model will clarify the roles and responsibilities that will help make Alberta's publicly funded health care system more effective and efficient," Stelmach said.
Opposition quick to attack changes
The opposition parties in the Alberta legislature said the changes won't fix the province's No. 1 health care problem: recruiting and training new staff.
"Not only does this not help; it hurts efforts to recruit nurses by inserting more chaos and upheaval in the system," said Rachel Notley, the NDP health critic.
"This restructuring will end up costing the government millions in severance for senior executives, in reorganizing the departments, in once again reorganizing labour relations."
The restructuring is just the latest in a long line of reforms over the years, none of which have worked, the NDP said.
The Liberals agreed, noting that the government first set up 17 health regions, then trimmed them to 9 and have now come up with yet another plan.
"Doctors always perform a diagnosis before treating patients," said Liberal health critic Dave Taylor.
"The Tories have provided no evidence that they've analyzed two previous attempts at restructuring, and no evidence that this latest shakeup of the system will improve access, quality and cost-effectiveness of public health care."
Reaction from labour mixed
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees said the health board consolidation makes sense from a labour-relations perspective. However, president Doug Knight said the implications for their 33,000 members in the health care field need to be clarified as quickly as possible.
The reaction from the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which also represents some health care support workers, was not as positive. It called the change a disaster.
"Merging into one superauthority will create catastrophic bottlenecks for Albertans when they're at their most vulnerable," said Alberta division president D'Arcy Lanovaz.