Fewer health regions are coming closer to becoming a reality. Thursday afternoon, Health Minister Dustin Duncan named an advisory panel that will give their recommendations for larger health regions across the province.
The three-person panel is tasked with recommending changes to boundaries as well as suggestions on possible ways to improve front-line service delivery.
“I want to be clear: while panel members will provide advice that will lead to fewer health regions and less administration, the overall goal of this is to continue to improve front line patient care for Saskatchewan residents,” Duncan said in a statement.
The panel will also be looking into how to create administrative efficiencies, looking for opportunities to consolidate clinical or health system support services currently delivered by regional health regions that may be more effectively delivered on a province-wide basis, and the mechanism(s) to best organize and deliver such services.
They are to review current legislation and processes to ensure they adequately establish: the roles of health systems boards; their composition; structure and reporting relationship to achieve appropriate accountability.
Duncan also wants the panel to identify processes to enhance management information to improve and observe on performance management of the health care system.
Patty Brockman, the staff representative for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has concerns with the restructuring of the health region and how it will impact workers, patients and the quality of care.
“Larger health regions have a disproportional impact on rural communities and could lead to reduced services and a loss of decision making in communities,” said Brockman.
In the last two health system restructurings, front line workers in Saskatchewan felt unparalleled stress, according to Brockman, adding there are health impacts associated with a long period of uncertainty, including “low morale, burnout and decreased job satisfaction.”
“Both instances of reorganization disrupted the whole health system and distracted from the main purpose of the health care system: providing quality care to patients and residents,” said Brockman.
Brockman is concerned having larger and fewer health regions will open the door to more privatization in the health care sector than what has already been seen with the privatization of ultrasounds and CT scans.
The Saskatchewan government says a health care system with fewer regions is part of its plan for “transformational change”.
Not everyone is convinced this plan will give the province the transformational change the government is claiming it will.
Rick Swenson, the PC party leader, says the government should have put front-line staff on the panel, people who actually knows what kind of change is needed in the province.
“I think it will be very difficult for this panel to stray very far from whatever direction the government wants to go,” said Swenson in a statement.
Swenson accuses the Sask. Party of not wanting to go against the status quo created with the health regions 20 years ago.
“… the Sask. Party has had eight years to make changes but doesn’t want to shake up the status quo,” said Swenson.
During the election process the PCs ran on a platform that included the elimination of all health regions in the province.
“With a stroke of a pen Brad Wall can bring accountability for health spending back to the legislature,” Swenson said.
Duncan has stacked the panel with people who are very familiar with the health care system, both rural and urban.
The panel members are: President and CEO of Pinnacle Financial Services and former chairperson of the Cypress Regional Health Authority Tyler Bragg (Swift Current), CEO of the Physician Recruitment Agency of Saskatchewan Dr. Dennis Kendel (Saskatoon) and Chairperson of the Prince Albert Parkland Regional Health Authority Brenda Abrametz (Prince Albert).
Currently there are 12 health regions in Saskatchewan, not including the Athabasca Health Authority, which is a separate organization.
“At the end of the day, I don’t know what the number will be, but I think there’s a recognition that 12 is too many for a province of our size,” Duncan said on June 1.
Premier Wall said in June the government is unsure of how many health regions there should be for the province. The Health Minister said there could be zero, one or perhaps three, they are just unsure at this time.
There is no specified date when the panel is to give their results, just that it will be given in “coming months”.
“I look forward to the panel’s recommendations and advice in the coming months,” Duncan said.