Gauging reaction to Saskatchewan’s move to a single health authority

There are many questions that need to be answered about Saskatchewan’s plan to merge the 12 Regional Health Authorities into a single Provincial Health Authority.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Jim Reiter said the province plans on taking its time to get it right.

In the meantime, people like continuing care aide Rebecca Reynard will be asking questions about how the transition will impact health care in Saskatchewan.

“I’m very hopeful that it benefits our clients and our patients, and right now I’m unsure what will happen,” she said.

From 12 to 1: Sask. Government will move to single Provincial Health Authority

Reynard has worked full time providing home care in both urban and rural Saskatchewan. She wants to see the new system bring in provisions that allow more people in long-term care stay in their home community.

“Quite often, people when they come to a time when they need long-term care they’re moved elsewhere, and that’s even the case for urban as well. Quite often, people from the city are moved out of town,” Reynard said.

She also has concerns about how funding will be divided amongst rural and urban areas under the Provincial Health Authority.

This issue is also a major concern for Ray Orb, president of the Saskathcewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM).

Orb he anticipated a reduction in health regions, but was surprised by the plan to move to one. He and the SARM board will be meeting with Reiter and Rural Health Minister Greg Ottenbreit later this month to discuss the move and ask questions.

Orb is particularly interested in the planned amalgamation of EMS dispatching.

“That often is the only link, EMS and STARS, are the only link between health-care issues and accidents in rural Saskatchewan, and the actual health-care coverage that they get,” he said.

There are plenty of unknowns in the how everything will work in the transition, and this is why Orb would like to see the health ministry hold regional meetings to update rural communities.

SEIU-West, whose members include frontline health-care workers, are concerned the “vagueness” of the plan they received during a briefing with ministry officials.

“Our members are disappointed with the direction being taken by the Advisory Panel and our government,” Barbara Cape, president of SEIU-West, said.

“We are of the view that this move has the potential to negatively impact both patient care and the provision of health care services. Labour relations issues have been minimized, at best, or at worst, simply ignored.”

As for the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, president Tracy Zambory said they’re still reviewing the plan. In the meantime, Zambory said their main priority are the patients.

“With all the changes that are coming, because they are coming, that the patients of Saskatchewan will have as seamless an experience as possible in the healthcare system,” Zambory said.

On Wednesday, Reiter said their transition team still needs to figure out how the transition will impact union contracts. This is something University of Regina political science department head Tom McIntosh sees as a significant hurdle.

“So we’re going to be collectively bargaining at the same time that we’re trying to do this. That’s going to be incredibly complicated,” McIntosh explained.

“There are huge issues around things like seniority, and how that will operate when you’re no longer an employee of the health region, and you’re an employee of the health authority.”

While watching video of the Wednesday’s press conference, McIntosh noted that Reiter mentioned “significant savings” numerous times. The professor hopes that finding savings in the $5.1 billion health care budget doesn’t become too much of a priority.

“If we spend the same amount of money but get a much better quality of care out of the system that’s a huge step forward,” he said.

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