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The endless Alberta Health Services saga: The Eagle has landed -- but for how long?

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Sheila Weatherill

For the moment at least, with Stephen Duckett gone over the side, the acting CEO of Alberta Health Services is Dr. Chris Eagle.

Until yesterday, Eagle was the AHS Executive Vice-President of Quality and Service Improvement, with, according to his official on-line biography, responsibility for overseeing the operations of the larger academic hospitals, the central health service delivery zone, infection prevention and control, patient experience and ensuring quality and service improvement throughout the organization.

Also according to his short on-line bio, he held several senior posts with the old Calgary Health Region, including serving as President and Chief Operating Officer.

So Eagle would seem to meet the necessary criteria for a health agency CEO set out by University of Alberta nursing professor and health policy researcher Donna Wilson, who told the Globe and Mail that whoever runs the health board should have actually been in charge of a hospital at least, better yet a health board.

The acting position is expected to last three months, after which a permanent occupant needs to be found, the Globe reported, adding, "Dr. Eagle is free to seek that position."

Alas, while I am informed that Eagle is a very likeable and capable person, he is unlikely to want the heartache and responsibility of occupying that post in such difficult times. Perhaps he will reconsider when he thinks about the bottom line, but it seems at least possible that the AHS Board (what's left of it, anyway, after the Duckett loyalists get finished resigning) will need to look for a new AHS supremo.

Obviously, as we have seen in the past 24 hours, the government of Alberta enjoys a certain amount of influence with the AHS board -- enough, indeed, that it would be possible to argue, if one were so inclined, that in reality the government runs the board directly and we could save a few dollars on board members' fees and room rentals simply by recognizing that reality.

So what would be wrong, one wonders, with finding an AHS CEO a little more simpatico with the cautious and practical worldview of Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky? Indeed, as was suggested in this space back in the day when Duckett and Zwozdesky were said to have great minds that thought alike, why not Sheila Weatherill, former boss of the Capital Health Region, back when the CHR was a leading health care innovator lauded around the world for its effective programs?

You know, that Sheila Weatherill, the "health care genius" Edmonton lost when Ron Liepert, then the minister of health, set about wreaking havoc on the health care system. The one who, according to the Edmonton Journal, "set out to turn the Edmonton health system into the Mayo Clinic of the north, a world centre of excellence in pediatrics, cardiology, neurology, women's health care and a variety of other fields."

You know, that was back before they were comparing Edmonton's emergency wards to comparable facilities in the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea.

Back in the fall of 2009, when Deputy Premier Doug Horner named the "incredible team" that would lead the province’s five new Alberta Innovates agencies, who should be on the board of AI's Technology Futures division but Weatherill. So, obviously, Weatherill still has her foot in the door and continues to enjoy the confidence of the people who are now calling shots in Stelmach's cabinet.

In that February 2010 post I wrote: "From a political standpoint, Zwozdesky would do well to make things look as much as possible like they used to, keeping the health system as quiet as possible for as long as possible to fulfill his mandate of making Stelmach re-electable once again." Well, I guess that goes double now!

Weatherill would seem perfect for that role but for one thing -- the controversial $1.5-million payout plus pension she was handed when she was skidded by Liepert in the summer of 2008 to grease the wheels for his dream of … well, whatever his dream was.

So, like, now that we're paying Duckett to go away, why not, eh? I mean, other than the fact she's not from Calgary…

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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