New mental health and addiction agency being formed in restructuring of AHS

Article content

The province announced a new agency under the Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction Tuesday which will fully absorb duties currently under Alberta Health Services as part of a massive restructuring.

Advertisement 2

Article content

At a news conference, Premier Danielle Smith said the province will introduce legislation this spring to create a new governing organization, dubbed Recovery Alberta, to be the new provincial health agency responsible for delivering mental health and addiction services. Smith said the new system, if passed, will be implemented by July 1.

Article content

“For those currently accessing care through AHS addiction and mental health, you will continue to access services in the same way that you do now from front line staff working with AHS addiction and mental health,” Smith said. “I want you to know that we are working closely with the transition team at AHS to ensure the transition toward Recovery Alberta is orderly and seamless.”

Advertisement 3

Article content

The creation of the agency follows the November 2023 announcement by the Alberta government on the restructuring of AHS into four new organizations, acute care, continuing care, primary care and mental health and addiction. The mental health and addiction organization will be the first of the four to be established.

Kerry Bales, the current chief program officer for addiction and mental health and correction health services at AHS, will be leading Recovery Alberta as the CEO once it is established.

New research centre for mental health and addiction

In addition to Recovery Alberta, the province will be creating a second organization called the Canadian Centre of Recovery Excellence (CORE) which will be a Crown corporation under the mental health and addiction ministry through legislation.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Mental Health and Addiction Minister Dan Williams said the purpose of CORE will be to conduct research and program evaluations and provide advice to the province on best practices for mental health and addictions.

“Despite all provinces across Canada facing this addiction crisis, there is no clear centre of recovery excellence that is advising on what works and what does not. When it comes to treating mental health and addiction, it is important to have jurisdictions working together rowing in the same direction when it comes to creating healthy societies,” Williams said.

Janet Eremenko, Alberta NDP critic for mental health and addiction, said her main concern when it comes to the announcement is the lack of discussion surrounding mental health. She acknowledged that while addictions is important, mental health is just as significant, especially coming out of the pandemic.

Advertisement 5

Article content

“I have really heard nothing about the mental health part of the file mental health and addiction. I’m significantly concerned that mental health will just continue to be forgotten while we’re in a point post-COVID of great insecurity and great concern around people’s mental health,” Eremenko said.

Eremenko raised concerns over the lack of consultation when it came to the restructuring of AHS and the lack of information given to front-line workers.

“My heart really does go out to the people who are working on the front lines who have been on this wait and see approach.”

Alberta’s substance related deaths reaches all-time high

Smith said “far fewer” Albertans have lost their lives to addiction in the province and “many drugs have their lowest mortality rate on record.”

Advertisement 6

Article content

According to data provided by the province, since 2021 — the highest year for substance-related deaths — deaths from alcohol are down 60 per cent, methamphetamine deaths are down 41 per cent and cocaine deaths are down 61 per cent.

While those numbers seem promising, 2023 is the province’s most deadly year for opioid-related deaths, even without the final numbers.

The province has surpassed its 2021 record of 1,634 opioid-related deaths with a new high in 2023 of 1,706. In November 2023 Alberta added 138 opioid-related deaths to its count.

“The vast majority of people struggling with addiction are not using opioids and in nearly every metric we’re seeing addiction related deaths at all time lows, which is a cause for optimism,” Smith said.

[email protected]

X: @kccindytran

Get the news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo in your inbox every Friday morning by signing up for our newsletter.

Article content