Ford government to create new Ontario Health super agency

The Ford government has unveiled their plan for reforming Ontario’s health-care system. But as Cynthia Mulligan reports, while there are plenty of promises, the plan is light on details.

By The Canadian Press and News staff

Ontario is merging 20 health agencies into one super agency and will establish local health teams to co-ordinate care as part of a system overhaul.

Health Minister Christine Elliott announced the health-care transformation Tuesday at Bridgepoint Active Healthcare. The government intends to introduce legislation at Queen’s Park later in the day.

Elliott said too much time is spent maintaining a fragmented system and far too many people believe it is the patient or family’s job to navigate the complicated landscape.

“The value of our health care system is locked in silos,” Elliott said. “We are leaving Ontarians behind because we have a system that is disconnected.”

A new agency, called Ontario Health, will consolidate local health integration networks, Cancer Care Ontario, eHealth Ontario and several other agencies.

As well, Ontario Health Teams will be established to provide what Elliott calls 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 to 50 health teams set up, each responsible for up to 300,000 people.

“The idea is to have Ontario Health be the agency that is responsible for coordinating the care,” Elliott said.

The government said people will still be able to choose who provides their care, and more choices will be available through technology, such as giving patients an option to securely access their electronic health records and virtual care options.

“The system will be based on our public model. People do not need to fear. They will continue to pay for their health care services using their OHIP card,” Elliott said.

Watch Elliott’s full announcement below.

President and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association Anthony Dale said they were excited by the news and the opportunities it presents.

He said Monday’s announcement allows, “the local healthcare provider community, for the first time in a very long time, to work together to deal with local healthcare needs without oversight by a third party and without nearly as much red tape as there is today.”

“it’s about reducing the amount of unnecessary third-party oversight that’s clogging the ability of the system to deal in a hands-on way with the healthcare needs of individual patients,” explained Dale.

In terms of cost savings, Elliott said the new health plan will save money down the road. However, it is not clear whether the new health plan would lead to layoffs.

Background materials from the government said that Ontario Health would eliminate “duplicative back office infrastructure and administration.”

When asked how many fewer staff there would be under Ontario Health, Elliott said: “That is something we can’t answer right now because of the fact that it is going to be up to the local Ontario health teams to structure the care that’s going to be needed in that local area.”

When asked about possible layoffs, Dale said, “Change is imminent in the agencies, I think the people who work there know it.”

“But there are a lot of amazing, very hard-working people with a lot of expertise to add, and the minister, what I heard her say, is she wants to help them focus their efforts in supporting patients and clinicians in patient care, and I think that’s a pretty powerful motivation for those people,” he added.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she fears the changes will open the door to greater privatization of services.

“This morning’s press conference did not allay our concerns about opening up our public health care system to private, for profit, motivated corporations,” she said.

The Ontario Health Coalition said it would fight any attempt to privatize the public non-profit health services, while the Canadian Union of Public Employees said it will begin escalating actions across the province to push the government to reconsider the changes.

“This dangerous Ford government reboot of our public health system must be stopped before patient care and safety fall victim to the gaps, holes and pitfalls this massive overhaul will create,” said CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn.

But the changes had some supporters in the health care sector, including the associations representing the province’s doctors, registered nurses and hospitals.

Dr. Nadia Alam, president of the Ontario Medical Association, welcomed the proposed changes, saying patients are currently struggling to get the care that they need.

“If we can do anything to make that easier it’s a good day,” she said.

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario said they’re optimistic that the government plan will divert money from middle management in the health bureaucracy to front line care.

“I think some of those organizations, quite frankly, have ballooned in terms of staffing,” said CEO Doris Grinspun. “I think what they need is a very clear mandate.”

University of Toronto Professor Raisa Deber shares her thoughts on what the province’s reform plans will mean for patient care in Ontario. Watch below.

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