It’s not unusual for health authorities to send patients to other provinces for care, says Hardcastle, but traditionally, they’re sent to public facilities when a procedure isn’t offered in their home province or territory. Sending public patients to private clinics out-of-province is a newer twist on the theme, which Hardcastle considers misguided. “It seems a precarious way of dealing with waitlists – hoping that other provinces [have] the availability and that you have patients that are able to make the trip,” she says. “That’s just not a very sustainable way of solving those capacity issues.”
Enter the Alberta Surgical Initiative
At a press conference in early September, outgoing Premier Jason Kenney explained that more than half of the 70,000 Albertans on the surgical waitlist had waited longer than the clinical recommendations. “The bottom line is that we must get more patients treated more quickly and using the innovation of the private sector is one important tool to do so,” he said.
Kenney was referring to the Alberta Surgical Initiative (ASI), first announced in 2019 during the UCP election campaign, which emphasizes the use of privately owned facilities – or “chartered surgical facilities” (CSFs) – for publicly insured surgeries. Alberta has been doing this since the 1990s, particularly for cataract surgeries and abortions. Today, there are about 80 CSFs in Alberta and more than half offer publicly funded surgeries.
Earlier this year, the UCP announced that Alberta Health Services was targeting 30,000 ophthalmology surgeries at private facilities across Alberta this year, plus 6,000 orthopedic surgeries via contracts yet to be finalized. At the September press conference, the government expanded the initiative to provide an additional 1,350 surgeries in the province’s Central Zone and 1,250 in the South Zone.