Alberta government departments aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch of the global recession, health officials confirmed yesterday.

Alberta Health Services is dealing with a deficit of its own, and yesterday discussed phase two of a plan to develop a sustainable, balanced budget.

“We can and we will balance the budget over a reasonable period of time,” said AHS president and CEO, Dr. Stephen Duckett. “And we can ease the pressure on emergency departments and some of the other wait times that are too long. I believe it can be done.”

AHS began the budget in April with a projected deficit of $1.3 billion.

During the first phase, $650 million in potential annualized cost savings were identified and can be implemented over the next two months, Duckett said.

Phase two of balancing the budget begins in September. Over the next two months AHS will consult with staff to identify three per cent more in annualized savings.

“Patient care is our first priority,” Duckett said. “We will have to make difficult decisions and choices to make sure that we can keep that our priority in the years ahead.”

He added officials will first look into non-clinical savings, duplication of services, and process improvements before looking at clinical services or reducing staff through layoffs.

“Reducing health-care workers in our public health-care system is equivalent to reducing our public health-care system,” said David Eggen, spokesman for Friends of Medicare. “This is a concerted effort to shrink the scope of our public health-care system and Albertans will suffer for it.”

Duckett said he’d like to minimize layoffs, but stopped short of saying there wouldn’t be any.

“I haven’t said yet that we’re going to have any layoffs,” he said. “I’m trying to minimize layoffs and I think that’s really important.”

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