[Editor’s note: On Thursday, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith fired the entire Alberta Health Services board, replacing the 11-member body with Dr. John Cowell, a single administrator. Smith has been a vocal opponent of vaccine mandates and other COVID public health measures, but has also blamed the AHS board for the shortage of health-care workers and patient beds when COVID waves were highest. Former board member and health-care leader Tony Dagnone published the following open letter on Friday. Thanks to CBC Edmonton reporter Janet French for sharing the letter online Friday.]
I am compelled to defend the valued 112,000 health-care providers throughout the province who care for Albertans every day. No health-care provider in the Alberta Health Services organization should be subjected to the unfounded blame and shame vocalized by the Alberta premier.
During my 38-year career in health-care leadership in Saskatchewan and Ontario, I had the privilege to work with eight premiers who represented all major political parties. I never once felt the need to publicly criticize their actions or inactions. Never in my wildest imagination did I believe I would hear the dangerous rhetoric spewing from the lips of Alberta’s disruptor premier! Therefore, I believe I have an obligation to defend the organization that I have been proud to serve as a board member.
Clearly, the premier has chosen to play to her misguided followers who rant against science and academic medicine under the veiled guise of freedom. Her warped stance on COVID-19, which I remind the premier “was and is” a public health issue, not a political punching bag, is nothing short of borderline dereliction where the lives of AHS staff and Albertans are at stake.
The premier has conveniently forgotten that COVID “capsized” all of our lives, and sparked profound turmoil in all workplaces. We all experienced the sheer drudgery of COVID, while health-care providers of all vocations stood up and stood tall under the most challenging circumstances.
Sadly, the premier ignores the gruelling 30-month “best efforts” made by the AHS board, management, clinical leaders, staff and trainees for managing through the tragic COVID calamity. All deserve our respect and gratitude. However, the premier chooses instead to vilify those who are saving Albertans.
As a board member, I witnessed the extraordinary collective will of our health-care providers confronting the unimaginable COVID pandemic. Their tenacity represents a hallmark signature of all health-care vocations.
It is with scientific certainty that COVID will rear its ugly head again, and now a respiratory virus is currently causing distress and disruption. If the current premier persists in vocalizing false, conspiratorial and unfounded claims, she will be responsible for putting health-care providers and Albertans needlessly in harm’s way. Her loose and corrosive words appear to satisfy her need for bizarre musings that can and will ultimately impact people’s lives. People will die.
Now, the premier is taking her nonsense to a new level by inviting a former Trump advisor, who has been universally scorned for promoting medical quackery, to speak to her “health advisory group.” This is another sign of her noxious grudge against Alberta’s medical professionals. When will cabinet confront and challenge their premier’s misguided thinking?
The power of her culpable words and actions have real consequences. For example, the fallout from her toxic rhetoric has given license to other provinces initiatives to recruit the best of Alberta’s health-care professionals who feel devalued simply for acting responsibly. Why would any self-respecting graduate pursue their health-care vocation in a province led by an anti-science premier?
Smith’s allegations suggesting AHS manufactured a staffing shortage displays her naiveté of the herculean challenges facing health-care organizations globally. It would be helpful for her to understand the initiatives taken by AHS to supplement the workforce, before she spouts outlandish sound bites.
In light of her unhinged public pronouncements, the premier represents the bleakest of role models for women who aspire to be accepted in positions of influence and leadership. It is unforgivable for a female leader to set such a low standard. Her accusations against 112,000 dedicated health-care providers, the majority of whom are female, will have unintended consequences.
Throughout my career, I have willingly served on numerous public- and private-sector governing boards. When I was appointed to the Alberta Health Services board by an order in council in January 2021, I felt this was my opportunity to give back to Alberta for contributing to my career development.
In my formative career years in Saskatoon, I was mentored by Alberta-based health-care leaders who were regarded as some of Canada’s best.
If my comments are harsh and focused on a political pretend-leader of Albertans, so be it! Leadership is about accountability to those you serve. If I sound critical of today’s provincial political leadership, I am. Because Albertans deserve better. They are entitled to governance that is principled, respects decency and inspires confidence in its citizens. The current premier defies all these aspirations as she spews wacko accusations at Alberta Health Services and its valued workforce.
In the interest of transparency, I have never been a member or subscriber to any political party, as I had a professional career obligation to always serve the governing party to the best of my ability.
Although I became "persona non grata" this week in the eyes of this government when the premier unceremoniously dismissed me, along with the entire AHS board, I continue to have a strong affinity to the province which family and friends have always been proud to call home.
Albertans have a critical choice to make in May 2023. I hope they make the right one for the sake of Alberta’s future.