Changes to Manitoba's health-care system to be passed into law

Changes to the Regional Health Authorities Act will enshrine the Progressive Conservative government's health-care overhaul in law, Health Minister Cameron Friesen announced Wednesday.

Shared Health to become a provincial health authority as part of legislation changes

Health Minister Cameron Friesen announces legislation Wednesday that governs major changes to health care delivery in Manitoba. (Tyson Koschik/CBC )

Changes to Manitoba's Regional Health Authorities Act will enshrine the Progressive Conservative government's health-care overhaul in law, Health Minister Cameron Friesen announced Wednesday.

The provincial government plans to change the name of the Regional Health Authorities Act to the Health System Governance and Accountability Act, Friesen said, and amend the legislation to give Shared Health legislative authority in the health-care system. 

Shared Health, the new organization co-ordinating health-care service in the province, becomes a provincial health authority under the new legislation, tasked with delivering provincial health services and developing a plan for clinical and preventative care. 

Under the legislative amendments, the Department of Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living will focus on policy, planning and oversight, while other health-care delivery services will be shifted out of government, Friesen said Wednesday.

The changes will make health-care delivery more uniform across the province so people all get the same quality of care, Friesen said. 

"Regardless of where you live — urban, suburban, rural, remote First Nation — you should be able to count on the fact that you know with confidence that planning is being done in a co-ordinated way, and then decisions are made about planning for the future in a co-ordinated way," he said. 

The operations of Health Sciences Centre and the Selkirk Mental Health Centre, as well as certain mental health programs provided by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, will be overseen by Shared Health. The operations of the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba also will fall under Shared Health. 

The province announced the plans to streamline its administration of health care last June, and this legislation will enshrine those changes in law.

'More chaos' for system: union

Opposition leaders said Wednesday they're skeptical about the government's claims that the changes will lead to better health care in Manitoba.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said handing over responsibility for services to Shared Health — and enshrining these changes in provincial law — presents challenges for future governments and accountability in health-care spending.

"The problem with that is that it ends up stripping governments — future governments — from the ability to change policy," he said.

"Either you can turn the money tap up or you can turn that money tap down, but all the decisions are going to be made in Shared [Health] or [regional health authorities], and we've always said that's completely unaccountable." 

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he was concerned that folding more services under the umbrella of Shared Health would make it difficult to tell when positions and services have been cut. 

"At the end of the day, we're seeing the impact of this government's health-care cuts in the cancellations of surgeries, in the nurses who are working mandatory overtime, and the increasing wait times at emergency rooms," Kinew said.

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, warned the move will inject "more chaos" into an already stressed health care system. 

"I don't understand how this government forcing these organizations together is going to improve patient care," she said.

"Again, it's all about the bottom line instead of focusing on the health and wellness of Manitobans."

The Manitoba Nurses' Union said in a statement it's reviewing the new legislation, but has some concerns.

"Nurses continue to struggle to provide quality patient care as a result of the ongoing cuts and closures imposed by this government," MNU president Darlene Jackson said in the statement.

She said the situation is made more difficult for nurses and patients by "adding further layers of bureaucracy."

With files from Erin Brohman


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