New health authority officially launches
Full transition could take years
A new era has officially begun for Saskatchewan’s health care system.
On Monday, the province’s new single health authority, the Saskatchewan Health Authority, officially began operations. Speaking to media assembled in Saskatoon, where the headquarters for the new organization will be based, the authority’s CEO Scott Livingstone said the day was a turning point.
“Today marks an important milestone for health care in Saskatchewan.
Today, the 12 regional health authorities officially join together, to start our shared journey towards a refinement of Saskatchewan health care,” he said.
Livingstone said that bringing the whole province under one authority will allow for more to be done in terms of improving health care, specifically access and quality. The CEO stressed that while the announcement today is an important one, there is still much ground to be covered and that the process will not be a short one. He said a number of groups will be consulted during this process, ranging from patients, to professionals, to Indigenous communities.
“Today is truly the beginning, it is truly day one, and we’ve just started this multi-year journey,” he said.
According to Livingstone, people who walk into a hospital today will not notice any major differences, except maybe people answering the phone with a different greeting. The CEO stressed that this is made possible by the fact much of the old infrastructure from the previous health regions is still in place.
“The phone number a patient phones yesterday to access care and the health care system, the websites … all the existing websites where patients go to access information … those are still intact,” he said.
He said one of the main goals during the transition process was to makes sure that patients and frontline staff were not disrupted. Going forward, they will begin a different kind of work.
“There’s a difference between transition and transformation, and the transformation work is about to begin,” he said.
A major part of that work will involve filling a few vacant executive positions, and also hiring out-of-scope managers and directors to oversee certain system areas. The hiring process will take several months to complete, and many of the positions could be filled by people who are currently in senior positions at the province’s health regions. The new authority has already spent over $4 million to pay out former CEOs and other high-level executives who will not be part of the new administration. Livingstone said he could not provide a concrete time when the new structure would be fully in place.
“I think it’s going to take multiple years … if we look at our experience in other jurisdictions like Alberta and Nova Scotia, where they’ve already moved to a single health authority, they’re not done their work,” he said.
When pressed for a firmer timeline, Livingstone said that Saskatchewan would likely be looking at a minimum of three years before the new administrative structures are fully in place. People will also not be seeing any changes in terms of the closing of lower volume health care facilities in smaller areas.
“There are not short term plans to be closing those facilities,” he said.
However, Livingstone did not rule out the possibility that facilities could be integrated going into the future. He also spoke to fears about local voices possibly being lost in the shuffle. To combat this, the authority plans to create six administrative teams that will be located across the province to make sure that not all decisions have to come out of Saskatoon. He stressed that these administrative units are not akin to the former health regions.
“These are not regional health authorities, they don’t have their own budgets,” he said.
Along with this, there are plans to create community advisory bodies to make sure services are designed with locals in mind. In terms of solving the problems of shortages of certain professionals in the system, the authority will look to work more on recruitment. Livingstone said the new authority will also be set up to better deal with shortterm shortages.
“We’ll have the ability to draw on a provincial pool for locums,” he said.
Livingstone said one of the goals they are hoping to accomplish is keeping the overall decision making as close to the patient as possible, but also making sure to keep true to the vision of having a provincial system, which they are still trying to navigate.
“We haven’t landed exactly where that decision making threshold will be,” he said.
The phone number a patient phones yesterday to access care and the health care system, the websites… all the existing websites ... Scott Livingstone, CEO of new Saskatchewan Health Authority