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Ontario proposes 'seamless' health reforms in bid to cater to aging patients

Images from the emergency department of Royal Victoria Hospital, 201 Georgian Drive, in Barrie.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Patients in Ontario would be able to navigate between a hospital and back into the community more easily under proposed reforms aimed at retooling the system to meet the needs of an aging population.

Health Minister Deb Matthews plans to unveil the government's action plan to transform the health-care system in a speech on Monday. She will stress that the McGuinty government will maintain its investment in health care even as it struggles to erase a multibillion-dollar deficit.

The plan calls for vastly increasing the powers of the province's local health authorities – despite calls by the opposition to scrap them.

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The province's 14 local health integration units, known as LHINs, would assume responsibility for family health care. This would ensure that patients have a more "seamless experience" from their family doctor to hospitals as well as improve the quality of care that seniors receive at home, Ms. Matthews said.

As opposed to throwing new resources at health care – which already consumes nearly 45 cents of every dollar the province spends on programs – the government is reallocating existing resources to make the system more focused on the community.

As part of this plan, not-for-profit clinics would perform more routine procedures, such as hip and knee and cataract surgeries, to free up hospitals to provide acute care to patients.

"We can't keep spending our health dollars the way we used to," Ms. Matthews told the Toronto Board of Trade. "If we don't change, we simply won't be able to guarantee sustainable universal public health care for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren."

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak campaigned last October on abolishing the LHINs, entities that he says gobble up scarce health-care dollars while providing little in the way of improvements.

But under the minority McGuinty government's blueprint for health care, the LHINs would expand their authority by overseeing family doctors as well as the province's 154 hospitals.

Hospital executives have said the province's existing health-care system remains mired in the 1950s, primarily focused on hospitals and with little in the way of community services to prevent the elderly from languishing in acute-care beds. In Toronto alone, one in every 10 acute-care beds is occupied by an elderly patient who has nowhere else to go.

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The government has appointed economist Don Drummond to review all aspects of program spending in Ontario. The province must cut spending in order to meet its target to eliminate the deficit by 2017-18. The deficit is projected to reach $16-billion this fiscal year.

Mr. Drummond will recommend that health care be spared from spending reductions. But the level of increases – at roughly 2 per cent a year – will be well below historic levels of 7 per cent.

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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