Alberta's health council membership a win-win

Tuesday, Feb 14, 2012 06:00 am | Jeanne Besner

The province of Alberta has recently committed to join the Health Council of Canada – a national agency that reports on health-care renewal across the country. One of the benefits of the Health Council is that it identifies innovative practices from a system-wide perspective, so that provinces and territories can learn from one another.

Alberta’s membership is a significant milestone for our province as it demonstrates a strong political commitment to a pan-Canadian vision and direction in health care. The Health Council was created by the First Ministers’ Accord on Health Care Renewal in 2003, which had a strong commitment to collaboration across jurisdictions – so when a jurisdiction opts out of participation, it poses a problem for achieving the vision and goals of the Accord.

Every province and territory is taking significant steps to find innovative ways to improve health-care delivery and make their systems more accessible, sustainable and of high quality. While each jurisdiction is unique in its context, priority issues, and concerns, we also share many things in common. It is wasteful of time and resources to constantly “reinvent the wheel” rather than adapting what has been proven to be worthwhile elsewhere. While there is no “one size fits all” solution in health care, we can accelerate progress by sharing experiences, understanding the challenges and successes across provincial lines, and building cumulative knowledge to ensure each of our systems grows stronger.

While it may seem as though there has been little progress and innovation, there has been in fact much to celebrate across the country. And, Canadians deserve to know about the different ways of managing and practising health care that work.

Alberta is unique in its health-care governance. We have one regional health authority and a centralized governance model, with operational decision-making decentralized to the zone level. It is a different governance model than much of the country, and when we shifted to this model, other provinces were interested in learning from this innovative structure. It will be important to share what has been positive and what has been challenging about it in order to aid other provinces in making decisions about their own systems. This commitment to the Health Council of Canada has made it clear that Alberta is ready to play an important role in informing the future of health care in the country. As a member of the Health Council of Canada, Alberta can benefit from its participation in the pan-Canadian arena in which to share and learn from the wide spectrum of innovative health practices in Canada.

In 2012, it is not good enough that promising solutions to important health system problems are successfully implemented in some parts of the country while having absolutely no uptake in others. At minimum we should question why approaches that have proven to cost less and achieve better outcomes in some jurisdictions are not adapted by others.

As we look beyond 2014, this is the time to reconnect and ask whether or not the vision of collaboration expressed in the last Accord is still relevant. While the pan-Canadian perspective articulated in the Accord has yet to be fully achieved, new questions need to be asked and answered before a new accord is signed. If there is truly a commitment to achieving pan-Canadian health system goals, all jurisdictions need to be involved and participate in the discussion. We need to refocus on what was intended when it came to collaboration, and be clear about the vision for the future of health care. While every jurisdiction must tailor the means taken to achieve the Accord’s health goals, we can work together to solve common problems and address similar challenges. In this regard, Albertans are no less committed than other Canadians to ensuring a national commitment to providing Canadians with access to quality health care that is available and accessible based on need, rather than ability to pay, regardless of place of residence. I applaud Alberta’s decision to join the Health Council of Canada as we have much to offer and much to learn from others as we strive to achieve a better health-care system for all.

Jeanne Besner, C.M., PhD, RN, is an Alberta resident and former Chair of the Health Council of Canada.


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