After a three-year delay, the NDP has pushed Ontario's legislative assembly to approve a review of the province's 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs).
France Gelinas, the NDP MPP for Nickel Belt, has led the charge for the long overdue review of the LHINs, along with her colleague Cindy Forster, the NDP MPP for Welland.
A review of the LHINs, which were set up by the Liberal government in 2007 to help deliver health care funding to hospitals, clinics, long-term care homes and community care initiatives, was supposed to be completed in March 2010.
Gelinas said opposition to the LHINs, especially from the Progressive Conservative Party, made the Liberals sheepish to conduct a review of the institutions and the Local Health System Integration Act, which legislates their existence.
Conservative leader Tim Hudak has said he would end the LHINs if his party were to form government.
“I mean these LHINs have taken $300 million out of health care for a bloated bureaucracy, boy they have a lot of conventions and meetings but but these are folks who don't spend a minute with patients. They don't do a single surgery,” Hudak told media in 2011.
The Social Policy Committee – made up of four Liberal members, three Conservatives and two NDP members – will undertake the review of the LHINs.
On Monday, Nov. 18, the committee is expected to get an overview of the Local Health System Integration Act. The next Monday the LHINs' top managers will give the committee their feedback.
In January and February, when the legislature is no longer in session, the committee will meet with communities to receive feed back from users of the health care system.
Gelinas said the committee has only been given eight days to travel, and will visit those communities that display the greatest interest in providing feedback.
The committee is expected to make its recommendations by late 2014.
“Our recommendations could be to change the law, change the regulations, change the LHINs,” Gelinas said. “It could go from making them better to getting rid of them altogether.”
Opinions surrounding the North East LHIN have been mixed, Gelinas said. Some people have been pleased with the services it has provided, while others have been upset enough to create anti-LHIN t-shirts.
“Because we have waited so long (for a review) some of that hatred for the LHINs – and the word is not too small, because they just hate them – has really grown,” Gelinas said.
Gelinas said the North East LHIN's amalgamation of services provided by small hospitals, in the area surrounding Temiskaming Shores, has been controversial.
In some cases, services that were offered in French, are now only available in English, Gelinas said.
But Lara Bradley, a spokesperson the North East LHIN, said French services have not been cut in the region.
“We've been working with all our service providers to increase the number who offer services in French,” Bradley said. “This is something we feel really strongly about.”
She said the North East LHIN has consulted with the Réseau du mieux-être francophone du nord de l'Ontario to ensure French the region would not lose French services, and even increase them.
Cynthia Stables, the North East LHIN's director of community engagement and communications, said the organization welcomes a review. “It's business as usual from a North East LHIN perspective in terms of working with health service providers and engaging with northerners,” she said.
Stables said the North East LHIN has made it its mission to listen to feedback from northerners.
It recently published a three-year strategic plan with four priorities: to increase access to primary care; to increase transitions of care; to increase co-ordination of mental health and addiction services; and to target the needs of culturally diverse population groups.
Stables said the North East LHIN consulted with 4,000 northerners to develop the strategic plan.
“I think what stood out the most was that status quo was not an option,” Stables said. “People recognize the health care system needs to be made stronger.”
She added the LHIN's $1.5-billion budget flows directly into front-line health care every year.