9 regional health-care executives axed as province pivots toward ‘super agency’
Nine chief executives of Ontario’s regional health agencies are getting pink slips and sharing $3 million in severance as the province revamps its healthcare system in a bid to save money and improve efficiency.
The move to cut the number of Local Health Integration Networks (LHIN) to five from 14 comes as organizations like Cancer Care Ontario and eHealth Ontario are transferred into a new “super agency” called Ontario Health effective Dec. 2, Health Minister Christine Elliott announced Wednesday.
Elliott said nothing will change for patients as the health system is streamlined to save $250 million this year, rising to $350 million next year, with the money being poured back into front-line care as the province’s population grows and ages.
“Patients continue to receive care in the same way they always have. This is really just back-office changes to find savings and to integrate patient care,” she said in an interview, noting functions like human resources and payroll for the many different agencies are being combined under the new Ontario Health to end unnecessary duplication.
A health ministry official said no one other than the heads of the LHINs, which provide local health care planning, are being laid off now and no offices are closing, but in future there will be “significant” savings as real estate assets are consolidated.
The Toronto Star reported in June that 416 administrative staff were cut at Cancer Care Ontario and other health organizations as Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government began the streamlining. A total of 825 positions were eliminated, of which 409 were vacant.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath described herself as “a skeptic” when asked if she believes the restructuring will improve health care for patients.
“While the government’s making all of these changes building their super-bureaucracy, we see hallway medicine getting worse and worse,” Horwath told reporters in a reference to overcrowded hospitals forced to treat patients in corridors because not enough rooms are available.
“This government has shown time and time again that their interest is in cutting costs, and the impacts of that be damned.”
Each of the five LHINs will now cover an expanded area covering western, eastern, central and northern Ontario, with Toronto as a separate region.
Elliott announced her vision for the new health system in February, saying the goal is to provide more “seamless” care by erasing bureaucratic barriers between hospitals, doctors, home care and dozens of other providers over the next three years.
Under the plan, between 30 and 50 “Ontario
Health Teams” will form across the province to co-ordinate all levels of care, from doctor visits to hospitals stays and home care.
Each team is expected to serve about 300,000 people in a geographic area or a specific group of patients across the province, such as children with fragile medical conditions. Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government is relying on health-care providers — from hospitals to doctors, home-care agencies, mental health and addiction services, labs and more — to devise their own service models meeting provincial standards.
So far, the government has selected 31 of 150 agencies that have signalled an interest to form Ontario Health Teams and is putting them through an application process expected to be completed by the end of the year, Elliott said Wednesday.
Although Ford promised his efforts to balance the provincial budget would not cost any jobs — tweeting on May 27, 2018 that “Under our government, not a single person will lose their job” — Elliott maintained he meant “front-line jobs” only.
“That’s what we heard time and time again, that we need more people on the front line,” she said.
The health minister has spoken previously of problems patients can have navigating a “disconnected” health-care system, with changes needed to make sure that patients discharged from hospital needing home care get it immediately to make sure they don’t end up back in emergency rooms with potentially dangerous and costly complications.
Elliott’s revamp is in part driven by the government’s promise to end “hallway health care,” in which about 1,200 patients a day receive treatment in hospital hallways because of overcrowding, and more than 30,000 people are on the waiting list for nursing home beds.
There are about 5,400 patients in hospitals who no longer need acute care but cannot get into long-term care. The government has committed to adding 15,000 nursing home beds within five years, but the independent Financial Accountability Office has warned more are needed to cut wait times.
“In general, most large community and academic teaching hospitals are functioning at extremely high occupancy levels, essentially in a semi-permanent state of 100 per cent and higher. That’s been the trend the last three years,” said Anthony Dale, chief executive of the Ontario Hospital Association.
“It’s simple math — a growing population and an aging population.”
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says money saved from streamlined services will be returned to front-line care. “This is really just back-office changes to find savings and to integrate patient care,” she said.