Saskatoon

Potential and problems with Saskatchewan's amalgamated health authority

While some who are involved in health care say amalgamating Saskatchewan’s 12 health regions into one authority has a lot of potential, there are still a lot of questions as to how the province will make it work.

Questions remain as to how new system will work

A single administrative entity is to be in place by fall. (David Donnelly/CBC)

While some who are involved in health care say amalgamating Saskatchewan's 12 health regions into one authority has a lot of potential, there are still a lot of questions as to how the province will make it work.

"I'm a little anxious about whether they can pull this off," Tom McIntosh, head of the politics and international studies department at the University of Regina, said of Wednesday's news.

Health Minister Jim Reiter announced that the province would accept the recommendations of a three-person advisory panel that studied the structure of the health-care system. Along with moving to a single health authority, the panel recommended more consolidation of services.

The single administrative entity is to be in place by fall.

McIntosh said there are good reasons for the province to reduce the 12 current health regions. However, he said there are also risks.

"There is a risk that everything becomes focussed on Regina and Saskatoon."

The encouraging part of the amalgamation, McIntosh said, is that it will be done slowly. However, he also said implementing the new authority will be challenging.

While the health minister alluded to savings that would be made by the move, McIntosh disagreed, saying it won't save the province any money.

"There may be some small savings along the way. But at the same time, there's also going to be very large transition costs."

A new direction

The announcement was welcomed by the CEOs of Saskatchewan's two largest health regions.

"I guess I'm pleased that I now understand where we're going," Keith Dewar, CEO of the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region, said, adding that he likes that the province made the report public and that it had a clear direction.

Dewar said from his own previous experience, he knows there will be a lot of work to actually amalgamate the health regions. However, Dewar said he's been given assurances the process will be thoughtful, and there will be chances to give input along the way.

Saskatoon Health Region CEO Dan Florizone said moving to a singular health authority puts patients first, no matter where they are in the province. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

For Saskatoon Health Region CEO Dan Florizone, he said the move puts patients first, no matter where they are in the province.

"When you decentralize care and make sure that it's integrated, those decisions on what's best for the patient can be made right there, locally."

Like McIntosh, Florizone pointed out that it's important that the single health authority doesn't become too urban-centric.

Florizone added that the new authority will be able to learn from the current 12.

"You can take what does work and make it better."

Optimizing Emergency Medical Services

One of the recommendations made by the panel was to consolidate planning, dispatch and delivery of EMS services.

Florizone said doing so could help streamline care to the patient — sometimes even offering care for that person at their home.

Kyle Sereda, president of Saskatchewan Emergency Medical Services Association (SEMSA), agreed, saying there are ways that paramedics in the province could be used more efficiently.

"The evolution of paramedics today can certainly be utilized much more efficiently by attending to patients in need in their homes in a much more effective way without transportation."

One of the recommendations made by the panel was to consolidate planning, dispatch and delivery of EMS services.

SEMSA represents paramedics at 75 of the 104 sites in the province. Sereda said it has been advocating for paramedic services to be governed more broadly.

While it would have some challenges, Sereda said knowing where all of the ambulances are being dispatched in the province would help.

"Moving these patients throughout the province, and then certainly utilizing paramedics and ambulance services within the overall health care system does add not only efficiency, but effectiveness in how that ambulance might be utilized outside of its boundaries."

With files from CBC's Jennifer Quesnel