Diamond not opposed to one health authority

·3 min read

Eastern Health CEO David Diamond said Monday merging Newfoundland and Labrador’s four health authorities into one is not an unreasonable step, but he was less willing to speculate on what a 25 per cent cut in funding would mean for health services in the province.

Diamond came to city hall to sign a new healthy-city partnership with St. John’s, but spent much of his time fielding questions about recommendations put forth this month by the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team (PERT) in the controversial Greene report.

"It’s obviously possible,” he told reporters, when asked about the recommended consolidation. “At least three other provinces — Alberta and New Brunswick and Saskatchewan — have moved from a regional health authority system into a provincial health authority system. I happened to be in Alberta at the time they made those changes, so I know it is possible.”

He said the transition can be difficult, but the outcome can be positive.

“Once you get to the other side, it is certainly a very valid model and certainly would allow the province to manage its health-care system in a very streamlined fashion. I’m certainly not opposed to one provincial system.”

Diamond said unions would have to realign themselves with the changes.

“If you move into a new provincial organization, your bargaining unit structure would have to change in order to mirror a new organization,” Diamond admitted, but added the authority would play no role in salaries or benefits.

“Those are policy decisions beyond the scope of Eastern Health.”

Diamond seemed much more skeptical about a proposed cut of 25 per cent in health spending over a six-year period.

“Twenty-five per cent is a big number,” he said, adding that the estimated $750-million saving per year is equal to half of Eastern Health’s entire budget.

“We’re certainly prepared as Eastern Health to step up and do our part. What’s not as clear to me is whether the order of magnitude of what’s reflected in the Greene report is a number that we can attain, but it’s very early days.”

Eastern Health takes up 20 per cent of the entire provincial budget, he said.

“We have no illusions that you can make changes around sustainability without impacting the budget of Eastern Health,” Diamond said.

He said the authority has already been working with the government over the past six years to find savings, and it is also engaging with the 10-year Health Accord task force for guidance on limiting costs.

Dame Moya Greene’s report garnered mixed reviews, but many have not minced words over its combined recommendations of budget cuts and raised taxes.

Labour groups such as the province’s Registered Nurses’ Union have condemned both the recommended cuts and the amalgamation of authorities.

“A 25 per cent reduction in health-care money is devastating for patients and health-care workers,” Yvette Coffey of the nurses’ union said at the time. “People will die on waiting lists. We already have one of the longest waiting lists in the country.”

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram