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Health Care Action Plan


Taking urgent action to provide Albertans with world-class health care where and when they need it most.


The Health Care Action Plan identifies immediate government actions to build a better health care system that supports patients needing care while setting clear measurements for success.

Alberta's health care system is not currently able to meet growing demand despite the excellent work of doctors, nurses and other staff. Urgent reforms will focus on strengthening the health care system so Albertans can access world-class care, when and where they need it most.

What we're doing

To provide the decisive leadership required to accomplish this task, Dr. John Cowell has been appointed full-time Official Administrator of Alberta Health Services to replace the existing part-time board of directors and will report to the Premier and Minister of Health.

Dr. Cowell will work with the interim AHS CEO, Mauro Chies to address 4 immediate goals that will decrease ER wait times, improve EMS response times, reduce wait times for surgeries and empower frontline workers to deliver health care. The doctors reported back on the success of the Health Care Action Plan in February 2023 (90 days).


Learn more about the urgent actions we are taking as part of the Health Care Action Plan.

90-day progress highlights

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Faster EMS response by 22% urban and 10% remote

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Fewer Albertans getting surgeries outside recommended time by 9%

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More health care frontline and support staff by 400

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Shorter ER wait times by 10%

Goal 1: Decrease emergency room wait times


Actions to take

  • Attract and train additional doctors and nurses to reduce wait times in our emergency rooms.
  • Shorten the transfer time for patients who need care.

Indicators of success

  • Time from entering the emergency room to receiving the appropriate level of care required for that patient.
  • What we've done

    • AHS opened 255 new acute care beds (non-ICU) across the province.
    • More beds in care facilities are opening, which is freeing more hospital beds for urgent care:
      • 36 new transition beds for people discharged from ERs in Edmonton who are experiencing homelessness
      • 55 new long-term care beds
      • 292 new designated supportive living beds
      • 38 new community addiction and mental health beds
  • 90-day results

    • In January 2023, more Albertans received care sooner when they visited the ER compared with November 2022:
      • wait time to see a doctor in ER went down by 10% provincially
      • time spent in the ER for admitted patients has been reduced by about 5%
    • Number of people waiting in a hospital bed for continuing care decreased from 253 in November to 179 in January, providing access to 74 acute care beds and getting those who no longer need acute care to a more appropriate care environment.

Goal 2: Improve emergency medical services response times


Actions to take

  • Encourage paramedics to determine whether or not a patient needs to be transferred to ER by ambulance.
  • Ensure more appropriate modes of transportation are used for non-emergency transfers.
  • Fast-track ambulance transfers at the ER so paramedics are available for more calls.
  • Empower EMS dispatch to transfer non-emergency calls from 911 to Health Link.

Indicators of success

  • Time from call to ambulance arrival.
  • Patient offload time at ER.
  • Number of less urgent calls handled by ambulance.
  • Number of calls "stepped-down" from 911 to Health Link.
  • What we've done

    • Adding 20 ambulances during peak hours in Calgary and Edmonton, expected to start this spring.
    • Fast-tracking ambulance transfers at emergency departments by moving less urgent patients to hospital waiting areas.
    • Freeing up paramedics and ambulances by: 
      • quickly connecting 911 callers without a serious or life-threatening emergency to a registered nurse at 811 Health Link for further assessment
      • contracting appropriately-trained resources for non-emergency transfers between facilities in Edmonton and Calgary
    • Transporting medically-stable patients by other methods will free up about 70 ambulances each day to respond to emergency calls.
  • 90-day results

    • Ambulances responded faster to the most urgent calls in January compared with November. EMS provincial average response time for most urgent calls has improved by 22% in metro and urban areas and 10% in remote areas.
      • 17 minutes in metro and urban areas, down from 21.8 minutes
      • 19.2 minutes in communities over 3,000 residents, down from 21.5 minutes
      • 34.9 minutes in rural communities under 3,000 residents, down from 36 minutes
      • 57.5 minutes in remote communities, down from 63.9 minutes
    • Red alerts, which indicate a lack of ambulance availability at a point in time, were substantially reduced in Edmonton and Calgary.
      • In Edmonton, 81 alerts were issued for a total of 8 hours in January, down from 1,092 red alerts issued for a total of 39.7 hours in November.
      • Calgary had 134 alerts for a total of 3.2 hours in January, down from 328 alerts for a total of 8.1 hours.
    • 1,600 callers with non-urgent conditions were transferred from 911 to Health Link registered nurses, over a 3-week period since the program launched in January.
    • More than 4,000 non-clinical trips were handled by community partners instead of paramedics since launching a province-wide program, compared to 2,880 previously.

Goal 3: Reduce wait times for surgeries


Actions to take

  • Increase surgeries at underutilized operating rooms, mainly in rural areas.
  • Continue to leverage publicly funded surgeries at chartered surgical facilities.

Indicators of success

  • Utilization rate of operating rooms at AHS hospitals.
  • Proportion of surgeries occurring within clinically acceptable wait times.
  • Surgery wait times.
  • What we've done

    • Adding 3,000 more joint, hip and knee replacement procedures at 2 surgical facilities in Calgary, a 21% increase over 2021-22.
    • Adding 3,000 orthopedic surgeries at an Edmonton surgical facility, a 17% increase over 2021-22.
  • 90-day results

    • The number of Albertans waiting for surgery longer than clinically recommended decreased to 35,595 as of February 20, from 39,246 in November.
    • Nearly 7,000 more surgeries, including orthopedic and eye surgeries, were done at chartered surgical facilities in January compared to November.
    • About 800 Albertans who were waiting at least 3 times longer than the clinically recommended time had their surgeries since November.

Goal 4: Empower frontline workers to deliver health care


Actions to take

  • Restore decision-making to the local level and to local health professionals.
  • Incentivize regional innovation to provide more medical services.
  • Create a health care system that attracts more health care professionals to Alberta.

Indicators of success

  • Health service wait times.
  • Health professional-to-population ratios.
  • What we've done

    • AHS is adding 420 more positions in emergency rooms, acute care, EMS and community care, on top of the 400 added since November, including:
      • 114 full-time nursing staff for emergency department teams to speed up EMS transfers and free up paramedics to respond to more calls
      • 80 additional full-time paramedics positions
      • transitioning 70 current temporary full-time EMS positions to regular full-time
  • 90-day results

    • Alberta Health Services added nearly 400 frontline and support workers since November, including physicians, nurses and paramedics since November, including:
      • 28 physicians in rural Alberta
      • 278 registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and health care aides
      • 39 EMS front-line staff, including paramedics and emergency communications officers


  • Photo of John W. F. Cowell, M.D.

    Dr. John Cowell, Official Administrator, Alberta Health Services

    John W. F. Cowell, M.D., has extensive experience as an executive leader in the fields of health and safety. He has served as Official Administrator for Alberta Health Services, Chief Executive Officer for the Health Quality Council of Alberta, and President and CEO of the Workers’ Compensation Board of Alberta.

    Prior to these appointments he held the position of Corporate Vice President with NOVA Corporation of Alberta, where he was responsible for health, safety, and environment. Dr. Cowell also taught for over 30 years as a Clinical Professor at the University of Calgary’s Department of Community Health Services, and has published numerous papers on injury prevention.

    He focuses on ways of improving access to safety, suicide prevention, and mental health resources at the population level.