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AHS CEO firing could increase physician shortage: NDP

David Shepherd, NDP Critic for Health says the firing of Dr. Verna Yiu as CEO of the AHS is going to cause more chaos.
Alberta Health Services President and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu has departed from her position despite being one year into a two-year contract extension.

BOW VALLEY, ALTA – After it was announced that Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services (AHS), was leaving her position, the NDP has warned this could make the physician shortage in the Bow Valley even worse.

Yiu had served as the CEO of AHS for the past six years and received a two-year contract extension in June 2021.

“This is going to create more chaos and it will make it more difficult to find more doctors and fill those staffing shortages,” said David Shepherd, NDP Critic for Health. “What health care worker wants to come to work in a province where they see the government views our health care workers as disposable.”

The departure of Yiu may also make it harder to keep the doctors that we have, according to Shepherd.

“When they see a government that is this vindictive, that is willing to attack front line health workers if they don’t follow the government agenda. That will make it hard to retain the folks we have, let alone bring in folks that we need to fill gaps in the system.”

As Canada appears to be entering into a sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shepherd predicts that rolling health closures could also make matters worse.

“For regions like the Bow Valley, where they are dealing with staffing shortages, that means more closures, more beds closed, more ERs closed and less access to key healthcare services.”

In a media release, AHS' board chair Gregory Turnbull thanked Yiu for her leadership during the pandemic and the planning for an "orderly transition" had been ongoing.

“There has always been a plan to transition leadership ... We are excited about the future, and in particular we look forward to delivering on key priorities such as the expansion of surgical and acute care services, continuing care, the EMS improvement plan, enhanced mental health programs and services, and workforce recruitment and retention," he said in the release.

Mauro Chies, vice president of Cancer Care Alberta and Clinical Support Services, will serve in the role of interim CEO until the permanent role if filled.

According to Shepherd, many doctors are also contracting COVID-19 themselves due to their children becoming exposed.

“I saw doctors posting on social media that they are down because they got COVID-19,” Shepherd said. “In most cases, they got it from their kids, who got it from daycare or school.”

Shepherd puts the blame directly on Premier Jason Kenney, who is facing a leadership review in May, stating that he is appealing to fringe elements of the UCP base.

“Jason Kenney wants those votes to remain as leader of the UCP and premier of Alberta,” Shepard said. “Unfortunately, he sacrificed Dr. Yiu despite an exemplary record by getting us through this very difficult time as a province.”

Tourism could also be impacted by the sixth wave, according to Shepherd, coupled with what he states will be poor government decisions moving forward.

“Tourism is important to the Bow Valley. Folks down there are starting to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Shepherd said. “That was made worse by a government which continually acted last, acted least, and pulled health measures back too soon. Now the government is creating more chaos on the verge of a sixth wave.”

Minister of Health, Jason Copping, could not be reached for comment but said in a statement it was time to move forward with an ambitious agenda to improve and modernize the health system.

“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 term,” Copping said in the statement. “The agreement with Dr. Yiu that the board announced today will bump up the timeline for the transition and help the system move forward.”