New province-wide health authority to be based in Saskatoon

Starting this fall, 12 health regions will amalgamate into one province-wide health entity, dubbed the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

Up to 400 head office staff will work in Saskatoon

Health Minister Jim Reiter says the new Saskatchewan Health Authority will be headquartered in Saskatoon. (Mike Zartler/CBC)

Saskatchewan's new province-wide health authority's head office will be in Saskatoon.

Starting this fall, 12 health regions will amalgamate into one, province-wide health entity, dubbed the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

"The system is going to be changed substantially at the management level," said Health Minister Jim Reiter.

We are going to do our absolute best to make sure that the entire province is well looked after.- Jim Reiter, health minister

"Administration will be shrinking. No doubt there are going to be positions lost and some people will end up moving."

Reiter said the new health authority will have between 300 and 400 jobs headquartered in Saskatoon.

Saskatoon is Saskatchewan's largest city, and is home to the University of Saskatchewan's College of Medicine, along with the new Children's Hospital of Saskatchewan.

Reiter explained that with the new health authority, the "policy arm," or Ministry of Health, will be based in Regina while the "operations division" will be in Saskatoon. 

"I think that's probably a good thing."

'Seamless' transition for patients

Reiter said the transition should be "seamless" for patients, no matter where they live.

Rural and Remote Health Minister Greg Ottenbreit said moving to a single health authority should reduce boundary issues in areas such as long-term care and emergency medical services.

Rural and Remote Health Minister Greg Ottenbreit said moving to a single health authority should reduce boundary issues. (CBC)

"There's been a number of occasions where it's been brought to our attention that the nearest ambulance wasn't necessarily the one to respond to the call because of the way dispatch was set up," said Ottenbreit.

He added that he has heard of several cases where senior citizens are sent many kilometres away from their communities, even though long-term care beds in a neighbouring health region are available.

Prince Albert, Moose Jaw passed over

The mayors of Saskatchewan's third and fourth-largest cities had pitched their communities as potential headquarters for the single amalgamated health region.

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne said he was not surprised by the province's decision. (Jen Quesnel/CBC)
"I'm pleased I'm still getting something," said Greg Dionne, mayor of Prince Albert.

Dionne said he was not surprised by the province's decision.

"I'll be more excited once they tell me how many jobs are created," said Dionne. "It sounds like they're going to have quite a team set up here because we'll be one of the largest geographical areas they have to cover."

Saskatoon the logical choice, says health policy consultant

"They did the right thing, I think, for both symbolic and geographic reasons," said Steven Lewis, a health policy consultant and associate professor at Simon Fraser University.

"Realistically speaking, it makes sense to have it in Saskatchewan's largest city," Lewis said, noting the province's entire population remains smaller than that of the metro Calgary area.

Lewis said he is optimistic about the amalgamated health authority, but warned its executives will have to make tough decisions.

"If the provincial government micromanages what it does and really constrains its mandate like it did with the health regions previously, then I think it will be a lost opportunity," said Lewis.

CEO to be based in Saskatoon

Reiter said he hoped to hire a chief executive officer for the Saskatchewan Health Authority by the end of August.

"Somebody with local knowledge in the province — obviously that'd be beneficial," the health minister said. "But this is going to be a very different style of operating as well, so whether it's somebody from Saskatchewan or outside, we need somebody with no preconceived notions about the health regions." 

Senior executives will continue to work in Regina and Prince Albert, he said, with advisory groups making sure patients' needs are met in smaller and northern communities.

"We recognize, geographically, this is a big province with not a huge population," said Reiter. "We recognize that and we are going to do our absolute best to make sure that the entire province is well looked after."

Funnel office overhead to frontline workers

Reiter said he wants to trim administrative spending by individual health regions by an overall 15-20 per cent over the next two years.

Even reducing health region office spending by 10 per cent a year would free up $15 million, which Reiter said would then be used to hire more frontline health staff.

"That's ultimately what this is all about: It's about patients," Reiter said. "I think this lays the foundation to do those things."

He said information technology personnel were among the staff who would be better situated in satellite offices across the province. Reiter said that would allow the new health authority to respond to problems more quickly, and reduce driving time between healthcare locations. 

Right now, the Ministry of Health is working on building a computer network to link the authority's 43,000 employees.

"Many communities are going to see less positions there but they're still going to see a presence because those areas still need to be served," said Reiter.

Unions representing licensed practical nurses and diagnostic technicians are concerned about the consolidation.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Service Employees International Union-West and the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union have voiced their concerns about job losses and patient care.


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