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Alberta Health Minister Fires Back After AHS CEO's Resignation Letter

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EDMONTON — Alberta's health minister says the former head of Alberta Health Services (AHS) was trying to set policy rather than simply implement it.

"It felt like that could have been the case from time to time,'' Sarah Hoffman said at the legislature Wednesday.

Hoffman made the comments after the CBC revealed the contents of Vickie Kaminski's resignation letter from November.

AHS works under Alberta Health Department

The CBC says Kaminski wrote that Hoffman's department was straying too far into her area of responsibility, which made it difficult to do her job and put her professional reputation at risk.

In particular, Kaminski wrote, the department overruled an Alberta Health Services decision to take over ambulance services in Calgary.

AHS is an arm's-length agency responsible for the day-to-day operations of medical care, but under policy direction from the Health Department.

NDP mandate different from PCs: Hoffman

Hoffman noted that Kaminski was hired by the former Progressive Conservative government with a mandate to expand privatized services under the public health umbrella.

Hoffman said that was not the direction given by the NDP government when it took power last May.

"Certainly we ran on a platform of ending experiments in privatization,'' she said. "Public health care is public business.''

Nenshi weighs in

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi took issue with Kaminski's version of events.

Nenshi said in a written statement that he was forced to go to Hoffman directly after Kaminski unilaterally proceeded with the ambulance takeover, despite directions from the health minister to hear out Calgary's concerns that the new system was expensive, unworkable and unsafe.

"This is not how AHS should be run and not what the citizens who pay the bills expect from our public servants,'' wrote Nenshi.

"Minister Hoffman's putting a stop to these games is not 'political interference.' It's proper governance of Alberta's largest expense.''

"This is not how AHS should be run."

Kaminski, in her letter, also said deputy health minister Carl Amrhein, the department's top civil servant, would order specific changes without committing anything to paper in what Amrhein referred to as "voice mode.''

Kaminski said she believed that was done to avoid a paper trail and to duck accountability in the event of freedom-of-information searches.

Hoffman said that's not the case, that she doesn't believe Amrhein was trying to avoid a paper trail and that she has never given such direction to her senior staff.

She said that while she doesn't personally use the term "voice mode,'' conversations are a common means of getting work done.

"I'd say most of us communicate in voice mode for most of the day.''

Opposition has concerns

Kaminski now works in Australia and couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Opposition Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said Kaminski's concerns are valid.

"It obviously shows that this NDP government is interfering politically.''

Progressive Conservative interim leader Ric McIver said Amrhein's "voice mode'' references suggest the government is trying to hide its actions.

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