Saskatchewan's health minister tasks panel to reduce health regions

Saskatchewan is inching closer to fewer health regions. Health Minister Dustin Duncan announced on Thursday the review of the province's health authorities, appointing a three-person review panel.

Dustin Duncan also wants suggestions on how to improve front-line service delivery

Health Minister Dustin Duncan with his three-person panel, The group will review the restructuring of Saskatchewan's health regions. (CBC)

Saskatchewan is inching closer to fewer health regions.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan announced on Thursday the review of the province's health authorities, appointing a three-person review panel. 

Their task is to recommend a structure with fewer health regions. Duncan also wants suggestions on how 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. 

Duncan said fewer health regions are a likely recommendation but said he is not sure what the final number will be.

"Frankly, I don't know what the number is for Saskatchewan. I just think 12 is not the right number. I think we need a smaller number of health regions in terms of the way the system is structured. I don't know what that number is today."

Duncan said fewer regions does not mean fewer front-line staff but it would mean fewer jobs for board members and executives.

"We're likely going to have recommendations for less of those types of roles. For example, there wouldn't be as many boards. That's why we want to get on with this work as quickly as possible because we want to give some idea of what their futures look like," Duncan said.

"I look forward to the panel's recommendations and advice in the coming months."

The government promised to examine the province's health regions as part of its plan for "transformational change".

Advisory panel mandate:

  • Recommend a structure with fewer regional health authorities to achieve administrative efficiencies as well as improvements to front-line service delivery.
  • Consider opportunities to consolidate clinical or health system support services currently delivered by regional health authorities or other health care agencies that may be more effectively delivered on a province-wide basis and the mechanism(s) to best organize and deliver such services.
  • 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.
  • Identify processes to enhance management information to improve and observe on performance management of the health-care system.

Recommendations are expected in the next few months.

Panel members

The advisory panel members are:

  • Tyler Bragg (Swift Current), President and CEO of Pinnacle Financial Services, and former Chairperson of the Cypress Regional Health Authority.
  • Dr. Dennis A. Kendel (Saskatoon), Chief Executive Officer of the Physician Recruitment Agency of Saskatchewan (PRAS).
  • Brenda Abrametz (Prince Albert), Chairperson of the Prince Albert Parkland Regional Health Authority.

"I want to thank Minister Duncan for the opportunity to serve the residents of Saskatchewan in this capacity and look forward to playing a role in building a strong and sustainable health-care system for decades to come,"  Bragg said.

"I welcome the challenge presented to us and am humbled by the chance to make a real difference in the way the Saskatchewan health system is structured and governed to benefit patients," Kendel said.

"I'm pleased to be a part of this advisory panel and look forward to considering and advising on the best way to streamline our health system structure to benefit the residents of Saskatchewan," Abrametz said.

Union voices concerns

The Canadian Union of Public Employees said it has serious concerns about how the reorganization will affect patients, workers and quality of care.

"Past experiences from Saskatchewan and across the country raise several flags when it comes to reorganization," said Patty Brockman, staff representative with CUPE.

"Larger health regions have a disproportional impact on rural communities and could lead to reduced services and a loss of decision making in communities."

CUPE said it will participate in the process and voice its concerns.

Opposition wants proper consultation

The NDP health critic Danielle Chartier wants the government to allow enough time for the process to be done properly.

"The panel is made up of competent, capable and respected individuals, and it's my hope that they will be given the proper mandate and time to consult with the regions, frontline health workers, and people of the province, instead of just being used as justification for a pre-determined conclusion," Chartier said.