What changes under Ontario Health super agency and how long it could take
Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, greets patients at Bridgepoint Active Healthcare before making an announcement in Toronto on Tuesday, February 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
Chris Herhalt, CP24.com
Published Tuesday, February 26, 2019 7:20PM EST
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott's announcement of a new health "super agency" to marshal how healthcare money is spent is the biggest change to the sector in decades, but it may take several years before the changes trickle down to the patients.
Senior government bureaucrats say the main goal of the new super agency, called Ontario Health, is meant to bring the services each patient needs closer together. In the past, patients said they experienced trouble linking related services, such as home care after a major surgery, or accessing ongoing counselling after a hospitalization for a major mental health crisis.
The new legislation, The People's Health Care Act, promises to create 30 to 50 "Ontario Health Teams" across the province which would connect groups of healthcare professionals in "clusters" so that a patient could access all the services they need with less time spent navigating and calling around to request different services.
"We want to make sure we can connect the care so people can become well when they return home and remain in their own communities," Elliott told CTV News on Tuesday afternoon.
She said the aim is to have fewer people re-admitted to hospital with complications after they have been treated in hospital, because they will immediately receive the home care and other help they need when they are discharged.
Some of the health "clusters" would be organized geographically around a city or county, whereas other "clusters" or "health teams" would be subject specific.
Senior health bureaucrats said some health teams could be specifically aimed at certain pervasive illnesses, such as diabetes, or mental health, tasked with co-ordinating all the doctors and healthcare professionals with expertise in that illness with all sufferers of that illness in the whole province.
The health teams will eventually replace the 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) that currently allocate money to different parts of the healthcare system across the province.
The changeover will be slow at first, with officials telling reporters on background Tuesday that some of the changes could take as long as three years - coinciding with the next provincial election in 2022 - to complete.
Over time, the province plans to introduce entirely new processes to speed up care. For instance, the new legislation calls for wider sharing of patient's electronic health record, so that everyone who cares for a patient has the ability to see a full picture of their experience.
In the future, the legislation envisions a time where a patient's general physician could consult with a specialist directly using online tools, without the patient having to ever actually physically attend an appointment with that specialist to get the treatment process moving.
But critics, including the heads of several hospital worker unions and provincial Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath, argued Tuesday's announcement will lead to job losses and open the door to privatization.
Senior bureaucrats said the new legislation does not invite privatization of healthcare services. They also said the new law will not force different healthcare providers to "bid on" or compete with each other for funding to provide services.
The move could displace or transfer thousands of employees in the LHINs, or agencies such as Cancer Care Ontario or Health Quality Ontario, but senior government officials speaking on background could not say when or if anyone would a lose or even how many people work for all the impacted agencies.
The officials did say that approximately 300 people work for Health Quality Ontario, and less than 1,000 work for Cancer Care Ontario, two of the six agencies to be merged into Ontario Health.
There are also approximately 4,000 nurses and other experts working for the LHINs across the province, serving mainly to co-ordinate care for people with complex needs.
Bureaucrats said they aren’t in a rush to dissolve LHINs because they co-ordinate care for many of the province's most complex patients.
Ministry of Health staff said the Ontario Health agency has been incorporated already, but a chief executive officer is yet to be hired.
Senior bureaucrats suggested the changes will not cost any additional money, as the changes will be spread out over a long period of time.