Ontario unveils health revamp

The Canadian Press
Allison Jones
Shawn Jeffords

TORONTO–Ontario is consolidating its local and provincial health networks to create a central agency as part of a system overhaul, the health minister announced today, though she wouldn’t say if the move will save money or lead to job losses.
Health minister Christine Elliott said legislation would be introduced later today to create a new agency, called Ontario Health, to consolidate the 14 local health integration networks, Cancer Care Ontario, eHealth Ontario, and several other agencies.
“Too much time and attention is spent on maintaining a siloed and fragmented system, and far too many people believe it is the patient’s or the family’s job to navigate this complicated system during what is already one of the most traumatic and stress-filled periods in their lives,” Elliott said.
“That is just wrong.”
Background materials from the government say each of the agencies being rolled into Ontario Health has a full senior management team and administrative support, “and over time some of this work has become duplicative.”
When asked how many staff would lose their jobs as a result of the reorganization, Elliott said that is something she can’t answer right now.
“We promised that we would put more people on the front line in health-care services, and that’s what we intend to do so that there are people who are working in the LHINs, for example, right now who provide wonderful home care,” Elliott noted.
“We will still need them,” she stressed. “Nothing’s going to change that way. People will still need home care.
“We want to make sure that we can amplify those home care numbers,” Elliott said. “So, in the end, it will work out.”
The “duplicative” work refers to some of the administrative functions, she stressed, but said those services will be required in the new local health teams, too.
“I think we have to look at this as a rearrangement, but rearranged around the patient,” Elliott noted.
“This is not a financial exercise.”
The health minister didn’t say if the government expects to save money through the agency consolidation, but noted Ontario spends 42 cents of every dollar on health care and studies show the province isn’t getting good value for it.
The other agencies being rolled into Ontario Health are Health Quality Ontario, Trillium Gift of Life Network, Health Shared Services Ontario, and HealthForce Ontario Marketing and Recruitment Agency.
As well, Ontario Health Teams will be established to provide what Elliott called seamless access to health services, including primary care, hospitals, home and community care, palliative care, residential long-term care, and mental health and addictions services.
The teams would be responsible for delivering all of the care for their patients and connecting them to services.
Elliott said the goal is to have 30-50 health teams set up, each responsible for up to 300,000 people.
It won’t change how patients go to the doctor, she noted.
A group of providers will come together–for example, a hospital, a local nurse practitioner clinic, and a mental health team–and will be responsible fiscally and for the delivery of care to everyone within the geographic area, Elliott said.
People still will be able to choose who provides their care, and more choices will be available through technology, Elliot added, such as giving patients an option to securely access their electronic health records and virtual care options.
“Imagine, we can book appointments online,” Elliott said. “We have access to our own health-care record.”