Health Care

Health care funding 'not sustainable,' says retiring Hamilton hospital CEO

Murray Martin, President and CEO of Hamilton Health Sciences since 2001, will be retiring later this month. He says the biggest challenge for healthcare going forward will be funding.
Murray T. Martin is the President and CEO of Hamilton Health Sciences. (Hamilton Health Sciences)

Murray Martin, President and CEO of Hamilton Health Sciences since 2001 and a 43-year veteran in the field, will be retiring later this month. He's seen a lot of changes in health care over his career and says the industry will need to brace to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

"There's no doubt the biggest challenge will continue to be financial," Martin says. "The heath care funding has gone up 6 to 7 per cent every year for the last decade. It's not sustainable. If it keeps up at that pace we would eventually consume the entire provincial budget."

He says the growing costs of health care will mean some tough conversations in the future about what services should be insured by the province. They'll also have to tackle contentious issues like funding for end-of-life care for individuals on life support. 

This is the best time ever to be seriously ill- Murray Martin, President and CEO of Hamilton Health Sciences

The financial strains are in part due to population that is not only growing but also living longer, a transformation the 64-year-old witnessed over his four decades in health care. When Martin started out in the early 1970s, the average life expectancy was 76 for women and 69 for men, according to Statistic Canada. Now, it's 79 for men and 83 for women.

"The benefit of modern medicine is that people live longer but as you live longer you're also more likely to get disease," he says, but adds advancements have also meant better treatments for diseases from cancer to strokes to heart disease.

"This is going to sound strange, but this is the best time ever to be seriously ill because more can be done for you than ever before."

Building momentum

Hamilton in particular has advanced treatments with some of the leading research facilities in Canada and the world. Patients benefit from the research while having innovative centres attract some of the brightest minds in medicine, Martin says. Hamilton Health Sciences and St. Joseph's Healthcare provide specialized treatment services not only to Hamilton but also to much of the rest of the province from Niagara to Grey-Bruce. 

"Having success builds on success," Martin says, noting the funding for research at HHS — much of it from competitive grants — has grown from $30-million in 2001 to nearly $200-million now. It's helped lure innovative thinkers from all over the world to come to Hamilton and work in health care, he says.

He also cited the strong working relationship between HHS and St. Joe's — along with other health care groups in the city such as the Community Care Access Centre  — as part of the local industry's strength. While local health integration networks in other areas of the province have struggled to cooperate, Martin says Hamilton's facilities learned to work together.

"At the end of the day, it's seldom about structure. It's about relationships," he says.

Martin will retire on January 31. He and his wife are considering moving out west to be closer to their grandchildren. While he plans to still be involved in the industry through volunteer work and consulting, he said for now he's looking forward to relaxing and working on his golf game for a bit.