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Doctors sign open letter to decry AHS decision to revoke Hinshaw job offer

June 27, 2023

130 Alberta doctors had signed the letter by late Monday afternoon

A woman in glasses speaking against a dark background.
More than 100 Alberta physicians have signed an open letter decrying a decision to revoke a job offer to Dr. Deena Hinshaw, pictured above. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

CBC News · Posted: Jun 26, 2023, Last Updated: June 27

More than 100 Alberta physicians have signed an open letter condemning the move by Alberta Health Services to revoke a job offer to Dr. Deena Hinshaw, who was set to start working on a key Indigenous health team earlier this month, saying the move damages years of progress on Indigenous wellness.

Describing their concerns as “grave,” the doctors are calling for an investigation into the decision, which resulted in the resignation of prominent Indigenous physician, Dr. Esther Tailfeathers, from her position as senior medical director with the Indigenous Wellness Core.

“There is no place for leadership which undermines the decisions, recommendations and sovereignty of the Indigenous Wellness Core, and no place for political interference in healthcare delivery,” the letter states.

As CBC News reported last week, Hinshaw was hired by Alberta Health Services to work as the Public Health and Preventative Medicine Lead for the Indigenous Wellness Core (IWC), only to have the job rescinded. According to sources, the job was pulled against the wishes of the team that had hired her. And the move prompted the resignation of Tailfeathers from her position as medical lead of the IWC.

“We are very concerned with the lack of respect and the lack of validation of Dr. Tailfeathers — and the hiring committee’s recommendation — with the Indigenous Wellness Core. And we are concerned that there are political motives at play here,” said Dr. Neeja Bakshi, an Edmonton-based internal medicine physician and one of the letter’s co-authors.

“Our Indigenous population is already often discriminated against in health care, often is marginalized and does not have access to the care that they require.  And now we’ve disrupted a stable system that was able to help this group of patients.”

The letter, addressed to both Premier Danielle Smith and the official Administrator of AHS, Dr. John Cowell, calls for an investigation into the “integrity and ethics” of the decision. It also demands an public apology from Cowell.

The Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada issued a statement on Twitter as well on Monday.

“In 2023, at a time that we should be focused on reconciliation, we are still fighting for basic sovereignty over our rightful decision-making authority when it comes to healthcare administration, governance, research and provision in many parts of this country,” the statement said. “We hope that Alberta Health Services will reflect on the damage this decision has caused, and seek to right its relationships with Indigenous physician leaders whom it clearly needs to guide its important work in caring for our relatives.”

No answers from government, AHS

CBC News reached out to AHS for a response but a spokesperson said the health authority had nothing further to add. On June 3, it issued a statement saying simply: “AHS doesn’t speak to personnel matters. Dr. Hinshaw is not employed by AHS.”

The press secretaries for both Premier Danielle Smith and Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said AHS is responsible for hiring decisions and the Alberta government doesn’t comment on the health authority’s personnel decisions.

When Premier Danielle Smith was asked about the situation during her weekly radio phone-in — Your Province. Your Premier — over the weekend, she said that was a question for AHS. “I guess you’d have to ask Dr. John Cowell about that,” she said. “These are decisions that are made internally. I was briefed as it was unfolding and it does seem to me that one of the things you would observe about our government is how much we care about Indigenous health.”

When asked a second time, Smith gave a similar answer. “I’m sure that AHS has their own answers. … They told me when the process was underway, I got briefed on it and … I’m going to leave it at that. I don’t want to be involved in operational decisions. I want to focus on outcomes.”

Dr. James Talbot, a former chief medical officer of health for Alberta, said he has a number of key concerns, including what he sees as a lack of respect for Indigenous decision-making. “Once again the government has decided that it knows better than Indigenous people about what Indigenous people need in terms of their health,” said Talbot, an adjunct professor in the school of public health at the University of Alberta.

Talbot said it’s hard to see how this could be anything “other than the most blatant political interference possible.” 

The letter had amassed 130 signatures from doctors around the province as of 5 pm on Monday. “This step really frightens us to a point of not knowing how much impact we are going to continue to have on patient care,” said Bakshi. “If we as the healthcare professionals, that are on the front lines … cannot have a stable voice at the table, what does that mean for the future of health care for Albertans?” 


Jennifer Lee, Reporter

Jennifer Lee is a CBC News reporter based in Calgary. She worked at CBC Toronto, Saskatoon and Regina before landing in Calgary in 2002. If you have a health or human interest story to share, let her know.