Edmonton

Dr. Verna Yiu out as president and CEO at Alberta Health Services

Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, is leaving her position, less than a year after receiving a two-year contract extension.

AHS boss was awarded a 2-year contract extension less than 1 year ago

Dr. Verna Yiu is departing her role as president and CEO at Alberta Health Services, the AHS board announced in a news release Monday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, is leaving her position, less than a year after receiving a two-year contract extension.

"The Alberta Health Services board today announced the departure of Dr. Verna Yiu and the launch of a search process for a new president and CEO as the health-care system shifts to pandemic recovery and renewal," AHS said in a news release Monday. 

"We are very grateful for Dr. Yiu's tireless leadership through the worst days of the pandemic, and we thank her for her years of dedicated service and commitment to AHS and to Albertans," board chair Gregory Turnbull said in the news release.

"We have been planning for an orderly transition."

Yiu was quoted in the news release, saying that she had the "extraordinary privilege" to lead AHS for more than six years.

"I would like to thank all staff, physicians and volunteers for their steadfast care of Albertans and their ability to put patients and families first, particularly as we have navigated through the past two pandemic years," she said.

AHS confirmed Yiu is receiving one year's salary — $574,000 — as severance. Her contract specified she is entitled to severance if she is dismissed "without just cause."

In a separate statement, Health Minister Jason Copping thanked Yiu for her leadership. 

"It's time to move forward with an ambitious agenda to improve and modernize the health system, and renewed leadership at Alberta Health Services will support delivering those changes," Copping said.

"The AHS board has been planning for some time to start the recruitment process for a new CEO at the end of Dr. Yiu's extended term. The agreement with Dr. Yiu that the board announced today will bump up the timeline for the transition and help the system move forward."

The government has promised Albertans better access to surgery and the health system overall, Copping said. The province has a plan to move a number of low-risk surgical procedures to publicly funded, privately operated hospitals.

"The pandemic has changed the timelines but it hasn't changed the goals," Copping said. "They're multi-year commitments and we need to move forward on them, supported by renewed leadership at AHS."

Yiu has not commented on what happened beyond what was stated in Monday's news release. The message on her Twitter profile had been changed to: "Proud to live in Canada where universal healthcare is a basic human right."

AHS is responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for Albertans.

Yiu had faced criticism from rural UCP MLAs

Yiu's public profile had increased during the pandemic. She often appeared alongside Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, at news conferences updating Albertans on COVID-19 and its impacts on the health-care system.

Yiu was frank about the intensive-care capacity issues caused by the fourth wave of the pandemic last fall. She mandated a COVID vaccination policy for all AHS staff.

Her leadership at AHS had become a lightning rod for criticism from rural UCP caucus members. 

Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland MLA Shane Getson blamed Yiu for not doing a better job at increasing hospital ICU capacity to deal with the fourth wave. 

Peace River MLA Dan Williams said in the legislature that the vaccine mandate was a "crazed plan" and that "AHS leadership" held "a knife to the throat" of remote communities in his constituency. 

Copping later directed AHS to extend the deadline for employees to get vaccinated. Last month, he revoked the policy entirely. 

David Shepherd, the NDP Opposition critic for health, said he believes the UCP government directed the AHS board to fire Yiu to help Premier Jason Kenney win his upcoming leadership review. 

"The dismissal of Dr. Yiu is an attempt to appease the extremists within the UCP and tempt them back into Jason Kenney's camp," Shepherd said. 

Contract extension

In May 2021, AHS board announced it had extended Yiu's contract for two years effective June 2, 2021.

At the time, then-board chair David Weyant said he was very pleased that Yiu would continue in the role.

"Over the past five years, she has done an excellent job of providing stability to AHS when it was needed the most and has been extraordinarily supportive for all those working in health care," Weyant said in a May 4, 2021 news release.

"She is tirelessly leading this organization through a global pandemic with grace and resilience. We are grateful for Dr. Yiu's commitment to Alberta Health Services and to all Albertans."

Yiu was originally hired as interim president and CEO in January 2016, followed by a five-year term starting in June 2016.

Before that, she was vice-president, quality, and chief medical officer at AHS. She is also a pediatric nephrologist and a professor of pediatrics in the faculty of medicine and dentistry at the University of Alberta.

AHS said Mauro Chies, vice-president of Cancer Care Alberta and Clinical Support Services, will serve as interim CEO while the board searches for a new president and CEO.

With files by Michelle Bellefontaine

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