PCs unveil 'super agency' for healthcare in Ontario

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Today, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, delivered the Government of Ontario's long-term plan to fix and strengthen the public health care system by focusing directly on the needs of Ontario's patients and families.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott announced sweeping changes to the province's health care system on Tuesday morning.

"She is saying people want to live at home, people want to stay and receive care at home", VanderBent told The Sault Star from Hamilton, Ont.

She noted that not only Muskoka, but across Ontario, there were significant wait lists for long-term care admissions with many people stuck in hospital beds as they wait. A release from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care said $3.8-billion would be invested over ten years to increase long-term care beds by 15,000 and beds for mental health and addiction treatment by 30,000.

Hospitals, long-term care facilities, home-care agencies and other health service providers will form "integrated care entities".

If the legislation is passed, Ontario Health will consolidate multple agencies, provincial services and programs - including Cancer Care Ontario, eHealth Ontario, the Trillium Gift of Life Network, Health Shared Services, Health Quality Ontario and the HealthForce Ontario Marketing and Recruitment Agency.

Elliot stated patients will still choose who provides their care and more choices will be available through technology - such as offering patients access to electronic health records and providing virtual care options.

One example she identified as a need is follow-up care for patients, who might need access to personal support workers after their time in the hospital.

Under the system-wide overhaul, the province also will establish Ontario health teams comprised of different health care providers to improve patient transitions between health care settings. The government tabled proposed legislation called the People's Health Care Act on Tuesday to enact the changes.

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The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario said they're optimistic that the government plan will divert money from middle management in the health bureaucracy to front line care.

Amalgamating provincial health care agencies into a single agency, Ontario Health, would eliminate "duplicative back office infrastructure and administration", the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care said in a statement, without giving details on the number of job losses or cost-savings the move would create.

"The announcement does what I've been asking government for for a long time, which is don't tell us how to do to something that you don't know how to do, which is deliver care", Dr. Smith said.

"That lack of communication and coordination can turn into large cracks in the system".

"We need to get more direct care so that we can make fast decisions and have that urgency to help a person who might be one call away from the ER", VanderBent said.

The entire process will be seamlessly phased in to ensure that Ontarians can continue to contact their health care providers as usual throughout the transition process. "The government is looking at trying to improve integration of care, and this is something that we've been working at but there have been barriers", Huras said.

VanderBent said no matter what changes the province makes, demand for "good" home care will remain.

Health-care restructuring has a mixed record in Canada, and some experts warn that disruptive mergers can be more trouble than they're worth. Most co-ordinate home care.

Integration is a nice idea, but the government's announcement is underwhelming and short on an action plan, C.D. Howe Institute health policy fellow Ake Blomqvist said. "I think they believe they have a better way", Huras said. "Realistically, I'd like the Ontario health system to get better".