The Burntwood and NOR-MAN regional health authorities will be merged into a new Northern health region as part of a cost-saving decision to reduce the number of health authorities in Manitoba from 11 to five, Manitoba Finance Minister Stan Struthers announced in his budget speech on April 17.
The provincial government aims to save $128 million a year by reducing the number of health authorities, merging the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission and Manitoba Lotteries, continuing a 20 per cent rollback on salaries for government ministers, deferring wage increases and reducing office expenses for MLAs, reducing travel costs in every government department and reducing the number of government-appointed agencies, boards and commissions by 20 per cent.
These cost savings will be equivalent to an additional one per cent reduction in program spending, Struthers said.
The Churchill Regional Health Authority will be merged with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, while the Central and South Eastman health authorities will be combined into a new Southern health region. Other mergers will include Interlake and the North Eastman health authorities becoming the Eastern health region, and the Brandon, Assiniboine and Parkland health authorities amalgamating into a new Western health region.
"By merging RHAs, the government expects to eliminate 30 to 35 executive positions and more than half of the RHA boards, directing more money into supporting Manitoba's hospitals, QuickCare Clinics and access centres," read a government backgrounder outlining the changes.
The government says Manitoba already has some of the lowest hospital administration costs in the country.
Legislation to enable the reduction was introduced April 20 by Health Minister Theresa Oswald, who said that the regional health authorities amendment act would improve financial accountability and community involvement provisions.
"This legislation will help ensure an even more responsive RHA system," Oswald said in a government news release.
Among the provisions in the bill are tighter controls on executive compensation in regional health authorities, hospitals and other health corporations and measures to ensure that the expenses of chief executive officers for regional health authorities, hospitals and personal care homes would be posted online for public review. The legislation would also restrict the rehiring of former senior executives in health authorities, hospitals and other health corporations and ensure that health organizations' financial surpluses from public funding would be used to provide health services.
To make the health authorities more responsive to the people and communities they serve, the government will create new Local Health Involvement Groups and require regional health authorities to consult with patients and families in their region on community health assessments to identify the most pressing health needs of communities and develop regional health authority priorities.
"Merging RHAs will help direct health resources to support front-line care and is one component of the province's overall plan to protect quality care for families today and sustain the health-care system for tomorrow," said Oswald.
The Burntwood Regional Health Authority board of directors passed a motion to endorse the amalgamation.
“All Manitobans have a part to play when responding to the tough economic challenges being experienced today,” said board chair Lloyd Flett in a news release. “We must do what is necessary in a responsible manner with the financial resources available to be able to continue providing the services and programs that we as Manitobans access from time to time.”
The board noted that the government had stated front line staff and health professional positions would not be impacted by the merger.
“I have full confidence that the staff of this region will continue to place the safety and quality of patient care as their priority throughout the transition process and beyond,” said BRHA chief executive officer Gloria King in the same news release.
The Winnipeg Free Press reported April 17 that the move is expected to save the province $10 million over the next three years.