Minister takes scalpel to N.B.'s health authorities

New Brunswick has eliminated its eight regional health authorities and established two new authorities and a health council to replace them.

Changes meant to end duplication and streamline services to patients, says minister

New Brunswick has eliminated its eight regional health authorities and established two new authorities and a health council to replace them.

Health Minister Mike Murphy tabled legislation on Tuesday that will bring about the changes.

The new system will begin to be implemented immediately, with Murphy serving as trustee of the province's hospitals until new officials take over the two health authorities on Sept. 1.

The sweeping administrative changes will lay the groundwork for the introduction of the province's new health plan, which will be released in a few weeks, Murphy said at a news conference in Fredericton.

"These changes will result in a more effective, adaptive and accountable health-care system," the minister said.

"We're removing barriers to patient care that have existed between regions; ensuring that citizens are engaged in their health-care system and know how it is performing; and directing more of our health budget into patient care with less into administration and non-clinical functions."

Moving to two regional health authorities will allow the province to better meet the clinical needs of its citizens by providing them with access to a larger network of services and health-care providers within their region and shorter wait times, Murphy said.

End of competition for services

The number of health authorities currently in the province keeps patient care from being standardized and means that the regions are competing for services and resources, he said.

"We have eight of almost everything whether this is needed or not," Murphy said. "The unhealthy competition between regions created a desire to duplicate over, and over, and over again programs and services with little regard for the health system, or for the ability of the province and the taxpayers to pay."

Regional Health Authority A will be based in Bathurst and will serve northern New Brunswick's French-language hospitals, including Beausejour, Edmundston, Campbellton and Bathurst.

Regional Health Authority B will be based in Miramichi and will be responsible for the province's southeast English-language hospitals, including Saint John, Fredericton and Miramichi.

The Moncton area will be jointly served by both of the new authorities, and its administration will be split between both languages.

Salaried boards established

The reduction in the number of health authorities will not have any impact on the location of the province's hospitals.

Board members of the two new health authorities will now be compensated for their services. Murphy said the move mirrors what is being done throughout much of the country and will ensure boards are full of competent professionals.

"We need people with the right skill sets to carry out governance of our $2-billion health system," he said.

The two new regional health authorities will be responsible for developing health and business plans, managing clinical services and representing regional interests. They will be mandated to work in partnership.

The province will also be introducing a new health council, which will be headquartered in Moncton and will include a board of directors with up to 16 members. Half will be community representatives while the remainder will be made up of policy makers and health professionals. The council will have an annual budget of $1.5 million.

Health council to report on system performance

The health council is modelled after similar bodies in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario and will be responsible for reporting on the performance of the health system, ensuring accountability and providing a forum for citizen engagement.

Meanwhile, all non-clinical services offered through the eight health authorities will be transferred to a public sector company, which will be based in Saint John. This company will provide functions such as payroll, telecommunications, purchasing and laundry.

The change is expected to end the duplication of administration and operating functions, Murphy said, which currently costs about $250 million annually.

The consolidation of the functions is expected to result in $4.6 million annual savings within three years, he said. When the consolidation is fully implemented in 2014, it is expected to result in about $20 million annual savings.

There will be job losses connected to the changes, Murphy said. Most will be in administration, including the elimination of about half of the 56 vice-presidents now employed at the hospitals.