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Controversial hospital merger passes one-year anniversary

Dec. 1 marked the one-year anniversary of the merger that brought the Rouge Valley Ajax-Pickering Hospital under the Lakeridge Health umbrella.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

It’s been a year since the controversial merger that expanded the number of hospitals under Lakeridge Health’s umbrella, and the hospital says that things continue to run as smooth as ever.

In May of last year, the province announced that the Rouge Valley Ajax-Pickering Hospital would be severed from Rouge Valley Health Systems and merged into Lakeridge Health, bringing the number of hospitals under Lakeridge’s jurisdiction to five.

The integration is a byproduct of the Scarborough/West Durham Panel established by the provincial government in April 2015, building on its Patients First: Action Plan for Health Care. The merger was a recommendation in the panel’s final report, and it received the support of Dr. Eric Hoskins, the province’s health and long-term care minister, in April and was later supported by the Central East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN).

The order from the minister to carry out the merger also ensures the Bowmanville and Port Perry emergency departments remain open, and ensures that the Ajax-Pickering site continues to operate the ER, MRI services and Shoulder Centre, along with the addition of 20 new mental health inpatient beds.

On Dec. 1, 2016, the hospitals were officially merged.

Since that time, Lakeridge Health has been working to meet the recommendations set out ahead of the merger to make its governance model more representative of the views across the region. This meant expanding its Board of Trustees to include representation from across Durham Region, and has also put in place community advisory panels at each hospital, made up of community members, who have a direct line of communication to board trustees.

Lakeridge president and CEO Matthew Anderson says this shift toward a regional healthcare system will be beneficial in future years as the region grows. Over the next decade the population in Durham Region is expected to grow by 20 per cent, or an additional 120,000 people while the number of seniors will increase by 60 per cent

“We are proud to be the leading provider of acute care for families across Durham Region,” states Anderson. “As a regional system, we are able to better respond to higher patient volumes and provide more timely care and treatment for people with complex health care needs.”

Ahead of the merger, the idea was heavily criticized by the Ontario Health Coalition, a health care advocacy group, who released a report slamming the lack of cost savings by merging the hospitals.

According to a report released by the group, the merger would save approximately $300,000 every year. However, the OHC said at the time this figure doesn’t make sense when the merger is expected to cost $18.2 million. In other words, the savings won’t be realized under the merger for more than 60 years.

However, Anderson said the purpose of the merger was not to find savings, but redirecting the available dollars to better places.

“The purpose of the integration and the partnership with all the hospitals isn’t to pull money out of the system. It’s rather to redirect dollars that are in the system to more coordinated care,” he told The Oshawa Express at the time.