Rickford lauds new health-care reform

Sam Odrowski

The provincial government currently is reforming the health-care system with the objective of alleviating capacity pressures within Ontario’s hospitals.
The North West Local Health Integration Network (LIHN) that serves the area soon will be dissolved, along with the other 13 currently in operation, and replaced with Ontario Health Teams.
Under the new “Ontario Health” super-agency, 30-50 health teams will be created and made up of local health-care providers that will work as a co-ordinated group to guide patients to the services they need.
“This is a great opportunity to form family care groups and connect people with a more contiguous health system,” local MPP Greg Rickford said in a conference call Friday.
“We see a public health-care system where patients and
families ultimately have access to a faster, better, and more connected service.”
Rickford said his government is replacing a “broken” and “overly-bureaucratized middle management system” that will help with the capacity pressures people face here in Northwestern Ontario.
“Nobody disputes . . . that [the system] was in need of modernization, and we’re going to bring forward desperately-needed and overdue improvements that connect our patients with better services,” he vowed.
The reforms are meant to redirect money to front-line services, be centered around patient care, and improve the patient experience, Rickford added.
“I think always up [here] in Northwestern Ontario, we struggle or grapple with an allocation of resources,” he remarked.
“We travel a lot for various diagnostic and other health services, and we’re hoping to pull more of those over here.
“We just think structurally that LIHNs didn’t serve our purposes as well as it could have in those regards,” he added.
Rickford said the general perception across the province, and particularly in Northwestern Ontario, was that the system had too many barriers to care, with the structure being too “top down.”
He added it’s important for Ontarians to note that phasing out the LIHNs doesn’t mean phasing out their programs.
“We want those programs to be less saddled or burdened with some of the administrative decision-making to create more resources so that those programs can serve more people and provide better continuity of care,” Rickford explained.
“There’s great people that work in LIHNs and so it’s not necessarily critical of the human resource,” he stressed.
“It was more a system function.”
Currently, one out of six hospital beds in Ontario are occupied by someone who doesn’t require acute care but is waiting for some other level of care that is not available.
The proposed health-care reform is supposed to reduce that strain.
Meanwhile, a digitization of patients’ health records will help to remove barriers for those accessing health services in places like Winnipeg, Rickford noted.
“With respect to electronic medical records, [we’re] putting in a stronger technology platform that allows safe and lawful access to patients’ files, and allows them to move to various centres across the region or across the province for a better co-ordinated care approach to their disease, illness, or injury,” he remarked.
Concerns around the new system include the risk of patients’ needs going unmet during the complicated transition to the new model.
Other worries stem from the Ontario Health Teams model being too restrictive, making family doctors less likely to want to join.
The health minister also has the power to force health-service providers together when assembling the teams, which could be fraught with problems if it’s perceived as a cost-cutting measure.
The province said it already has interest from health-care providers in assembling the 30-50 Ontario Health Teams, but it will take a few years before they actually are formed, funded, and changes to the system are felt.