The days of multiple health regions in Saskatchewan are over.
Monday marked the transfer of power to the new Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), amalgamating the province’s 12 health regions under one board.
The transition started nearly one year ago, as the government announced its plan to streamline healthcare governance and potentially cut costs in the years ahead.
SHA’s 10-member board held its first meeting Monday morning at the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency’s Saskatoon office, where they formally appointed Scott Livingstone as CEO of the new authority.
Several board members took part in the brief meeting via teleconference from other locations.
Livingstone addressed reporters after the meeting, ensuring the public they won’t notice a difference when accessing healthcare.
“Day one of operations from a patient and family perspective is going to look a lot like day minus-one,” he said.
“We were very intentional about that, to ensure the transition was very smooth.”
The former Saskatchewan Cancer Agency CEO noted the long-term goal is to create a “seamless” healthcare system, where patients won’t have to repeat medical history and other important information to every provider they interact with.
SEIU West president Barbara Cape, who represents the province’s healthcare workers, called Livingstone’s target “laudable.”
“Whether you’re in Eastend, Saskatchewan or Tisdale, Saskatchewan – you should be getting the same quality of healthcare,” she said. “That’s something we really need to work towards.”
However, she noted there’s always concern among workers when the government’s stated goal is to cut costs.
“We’ve experienced a significant amount of change on the employee side since 1997,” she said, referring to when the province moved to 12 authorities.
“Everybody’s feeling that level of anxiety … stems from the notion that in order to cut costs, you cut staff.”
Cape added she hopes the SHA will provide assurances to front-line staff that their jobs are safe.
NDP leadership candidate Ryan Meili expressed skepticism over the shift to the SHA, saying it could affect the efficiency of healthcare in remote areas.
“One of the things you really want to preserve in a health system is the opportunity for local voice,” the Saskatoon doctor said.
“There’s absolutely a risk that that will be lost.”
When asked about community impacts on healthcare, Livingstone said the SHA is establishing six geographical regions to maintain local connectivity.
The regions won’t have any board, budget or decision-making powers though.
“It’s going to be one of the ways in which we’re going to ensure services are going to be designed in a way that meets the needs of the community,” he said.
Livingstone also noted the amalgamation of Saskatchewan’s health authorities has eliminated 86 per cent of the province’s health board and executive positions, which could lead to long-term savings.
However, in the short-term, the move is costing the province at least $4.1 million in severance payments. That number is expected to rise as more managers decide to leave the new authority.
The SHA is set to hold their next board meeting on Dec. 14 at Saskatoon City Hospital.