Ottawa's restructured LHIN now stretches to Scarborough

The Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) has been replaced with a temporary body to administer health care for a much larger geographic region.

As part of a provincewide shakeup announced Wednesday, Ontario Health will take over the Champlain LHIN's planning functions, while services such as home care and physiotherapy in schools will be handed over to local care co-ordination organizations called Ontario Health Teams.

For now, Ottawa will fall within an eastern region that includes a wide swath of the province south to the St. Lawrence River and west to communities along Lake Ontario, bordering the Toronto suburb of Scarborough. 

It's made up of what used to be the Champlain, South East and Central East networks.

That temporary regional authority will be headed by Renato Discenza, formerly CEO of the South West LHIN.

Catherine Butler, who had been the Champlain LHIN's interim CEO, is back in her previous role as vice-president of home and community care with this new agency.

The Champlain LHIN previously served 1.3 million people in eastern Ontario, the South East LHIN about half a million and the Central East LHIN about 1.5 million.

Millions in savings, province says

This province said eliminating the 14 LHINs and consolidating agencies such as Cancer Care Ontario and eHealth Ontario will result in an estimated $350 million a year in savings. The Ontario Health Teams, which will be made up of local health-care providers, will "guide patients" between the various providers they need, the province said.  

Each team will receive a block of funding to deliver a range of health-care services for the region it covers, but the province has yet to identify the teams, including ones that will serve eastern Ontario.

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Rose Anne Devlin, an economist at the University of Ottawa who specializes in health issues, agrees local teams may indeed be able to provide smoother integration of health-care services — for example, a patient's transition from cancer care to home care.

"But right now we don't know how many there will be, what is the optimal size and how much they will cost. It's a bit risky," Devlin said.

Devlin said the criticism that the LHINs were top-heavy may have been valid, but she cautioned their replacements will need similar administrative structures to keep them running smoothly — and that will cost money, too.

"You're kind of feeling along in the dark," she said. "If you don't actually know the costs and outcomes, you could be going from the frying pan into the fire."

No service interruption, minister promises

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott promised there will be no interruption to health-care services during the transition.

"Yes, yes it will be seamless," she said. "The most important thing is that the patient receives good quality care, and if they haven't received it we intend to make sure that they do."

Elliott also rejected the idea that there won't be cost savings.

"We know that with the changes we have made thus far that there have been savings of $250 [million], and [rising] to $350 million next year, and that will be put back into front-line health care." 

Elliott said the province has received 31 applications to fill the 150 Ontario Health Teams, and ministry staff will be visiting those local agencies to make sure they're ready to get started.

"We expect to announce the first of the health teams by the end of the year, and they will be up and running then," she said.