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Is massive Alberta Health Services entity about to be re-reorganized and re-regionalized?

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Janet Davidson

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Is it possible to be chaotic and paralyzed at the same time?

That would appear to be the paradoxical state of Alberta Health Services in the wake of the obviously carefully planned dismissal of the AHS board and its high-profile chair, Stephen Lockwood, by Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne on Wednesday morning.

Count on it that virtually no one at AHS is likely to make a decision about anything anytime soon if it can possibly be put off until later when it has become more clear what the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Alison Redford intends to do next.

This is not necessarily mere procrastination. For many AHS "decision makers" not making any decisions may be a matter of survival. Hence the paralysis.

Meanwhile, there is very little information about what the government's plans are. Anything could be happening. Everything could be happening. This may be intentional or it may not be intentional. You certainly won't learn anything much by reading the front pages of either Calgary Pravda or Edmonton Izvestia.

Precisely as the media of information worked in the old Soviet Union -- a completely fair and reasonable analogy that will no doubt earn a sharp Tweeted complaint from Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk -- the really important stories in Alberta don't appear on the front page under a banner headline. ("AHS meets and exceeds new five-year plan!")

They are to be found elsewhere in tantalizing hints and wisps, like the ephemeral comment over the radio yesterday morning by the just-cashiered Lockwood, sounding furious, to the effect he'd been instructed by the minister not to publish AHS's public financial statements.

So how big a surplus do they have that it's too dangerous for the taxpayers who provided the money to know about? Just asking.

So Izvestia, that is, the Edmonton Journal, reports that Janet Davidson -- the former nurse now appointed as Horne's "Official Administrator" in charge of the $17-billion-plus, 117,000-employee province-wide public health agency -- is a troubleshooter and a former insider from the health-care bureaucracies of three provinces.

According to press reports she is a former Capital Health Region executive and former Alberta deputy minister. She is, as Horne put it, a "nationally renowned senior executive with over 30 years of direct experience in health-care administration and governance."

In other words, she's just the kind of person you'd expect a government to bring in to take over a health system with huge problems. Funny that, considering that just a couple of weeks ago, according to the very same government, this health system had almost no problems at all and was well on its way to being a sterling example to Canada and the world!

But that was the day before yesterday. Get used to it, because this is Alberta and everything's going to be different again tomorrow!

Well, in fairness to Lukaszuk, they never had anything like Google in the Soviet Union -- and this is, moreover, a metaphor that applies only to the flow of information. So we don't have to try to puzzle out the confusing little stories on the back pages of Pravda, otherwise known as the Calgary Herald, to find out more about the new leader of the country's largest public health care organization.

Rather, it's from the Internet we learn that just the year before last Davidson was hired to head the "Global Healthcare Centre of Excellence," which is what KPMG, the giant international consulting and accounting firm based in the Netherlands, calls its health-care "advisory services" business.

KPMG, of course, is one of the corporations frequently used by neoconservative politicians to do the homework needed to prepare public enterprises for the privatizer's auction block.

That is not to say this is to be Davidson's role in this particular AHS gong show, or that is former health care consultant Horne's wish, only that it is evocative.

How odd that none of the biographies of Davidson provided by the government and the media seem to mention her most recent place of employment!

Meanwhile, Albertans also remain completely in the dark about what the government is likely to do next, if anything.

Given the lack of information, readers must indulge me for making a small prediction:

To wit, that Horne and Davidson will soon embark upon a major project of re-regionalizing and re-reorganizing Alberta Health Services.

The AHS name and its lame blue-and-green-cross logo will be kept as a fig leaf so as not to reveal the short-sighted political motivation behind the original creation of AHS -- which as far as anyone can tell was done to break the power of Calgary Health Region CEO Jack Davis, who apparently backed the wrong horse in the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party's 2006 leadership race.

When Ed Stelmach, Alberta's unlucky 13th premier, won instead of the favoured Jim Dinning, someone close to the new premier decided that Davis had to go, and the brainiacs on the premier's political staff dreamed up the idea that a single giant health region was the way to make it happen.

Now -- with Lockwood similarly acting too independently, rather like Davis had just before his $5.7-million buyout in 2008, which is reported to have included a membership in the Banff Springs Golf Club -- Horne was dropping hints on the radio this morning that the whole AHS thing may have been a lousy idea.

Who knows what that lousy idea cost? Certainly Albertans have never been given a full accounting. A billion dollars? More? Many of those dollars, however many there were, were spent on studies by large consulting firms like KPMG, AON and Deloitte to, no doubt, tell the government how to run an organization as big as AHS?

So it would be a fair question for Alberta's taxpayers to ask what it would cost for Davidson and Horne to recreate nine health regions, or five, or three -- rebranded, of course, as districts or something under the AHS umbrella.

Whatever the final number is, if this is indeed the plan, you can be confident it won't be a small one.

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

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