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Merger brings more diverse issues to Durham hospitals

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Lakeridge Health is now six months into the controversial plan to merge the Ajax/Pickering Rouge Valley hospital under its banner, and while things may have gotten off to a rocky start, the hospital CEO says things have progressed fairly smoothly since December.

“It’s been going really well, not without complications of course when you do all this stuff, but things have been going quite good,” says Matthew Anderson, the CEO of Lakeridge Health.

For the most part, issues have related to the technical side of merging two organizations, like shifting 1,000 employees to the hospital’s payroll system.

However, on the front lines, not a lot has changed yet due to the timing of the merger announcement.

“Because we did the integration starting in December, we had said to all of our hospitals, we weren’t going to make core changes to clinical processes through the winter time,” Anderson says. “December through March is our busiest time, so we really just tried to keep as much of our core clinical processes going as per normal.”

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 the Dr. Eric Hoskins, the province’s health and long-term care minister in April 2016, 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.

The order also came with a list of other caveats, like expanding the Lakeridge board to ensure more diverse representation, something they are currently in the midst of, as well as investigating a possible name-change to better represent the system as a whole.

That processes is complete, and Anderson says things will be staying the same.

“The overwhelming majority all across Durham said that Lakeridge Health is a name that represents all of Durham,” he says.

And while the name will be staying the same, Anderson knows that the issues and the health care priorities of  Lakeridge Health moving forward may shift as the hospitals adapt to caring for a larger and more diverse population.

The inclusion of Ajax/Pickering brings with it an entire new population, as data suggests the two cities combine for approximately 33 percent of the region’s population.

The hospital’s master planning process, which is set to wrap up next year, will attempt to lay out future plans for dealing with the region’s growth, but Anderson knows these issues must also be addressed in the present.

“In the more immediate term we do need to look at what that will mean for us,” he says.

In terms of funding, it means more dollars will need to flow into the hospital system to allow for more resources for more people. The system may work in their favour as the provincial model currently operates by providing funding on a population basis.

This year’s budget also provided a list of new funding sources and options for hospitals, as the Liberals pledged an additional $7 billion over the next three years to improve access to health care.

Premier Kathleen Wynne visited Lakeridge Health Oshawa on May 2 to promote the plan alongside Hoskins.

The additional funding was a welcome surprise for Anderson, and an opportunity to address the new challenges the hospital will face moving forward.

“We had already planned for a balanced budget across our five hospitals, so when they came and announced some new funding, that gives us a great chance to look at our wait times and other pressures and how we can apply some of that funding to those areas,” he says.