Reflections on a decade of progress

A letter from the Winnipeg Health Region

Winnipeg Health Region President & CEO
Wave, March / April 2010

Dr. Brian Postl

As you may have heard by now, change is afoot here in the Winnipeg Health Region.

After a little more than 10 years at the helm of this organization, I have decided to seek out new challenges. My position here as President & CEO has been assumed by Arlene Wilgosh, formerly the Deputy Minister of Health for the Province of Manitoba. She, in turn, has been succeeded by Milton Sussman, the Region's Chief Operating Officer and Vice-President of Community Health Services.

The selection of Ms. Wilgosh by the Region's Board of Directors is an inspired one. As the story on page 10 of this issue of Wave points out, she has held a number of senior positions in the field of health care over the years, and amassed an impressive record of achievement. She is well positioned to lead the Winnipeg Health Region into the future.

As for my decision to leave the Region, well, let's just say it was not an easy one. I was appointed the first chief executive officer of the newly created Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, also known as the Winnipeg Health Region, in 1999. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I really can't find the words to express how very fortunate and privileged I feel to have had the chance to serve the people of Winnipeg and Manitoba in this capacity.

During my time here, I have worked with a great number of outstanding people, from the board and executive to the frontline staff in our hospitals and throughout our community. Together, we have worked hard to create a better model for the delivery of health care for the people of this city and province. I'm going to miss each and every member of our health-care team. But before I go, I'd like to take this opportunity to express my profound gratitude to all for working to make this organization the best that it can be. I'd also like to take some time in this, my last column, to share with you some of the things that we have accomplished together.

No. 1 on the list, of course, is breathing life into the concept of regional care. It may seem hard to believe now, but the idea of creating a health authority to manage the delivery of care within a specific geographic area was not always well understood, or accepted.

Up until the late 1990s, the delivery of health care was akin to a series of cottage industries, with various groups and institutions responsible for providing one aspect of health care or another. Often these groups would end up competing with each other for scarce resources and a place of prestige in the public mind.

The Filmon government took the first step towards solving this problem in 1997 by creating the Winnipeg Hospital Authority and the Winnipeg Long-Term Care Authority. In 1999, the Doer government merged both entities into the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Things did not always go smoothly in the beginning. But the province was extremely supportive, and as time progressed, more people bought into the concept and worked hard to make regionalization a reality. The result is the patient-focused, integrated health-care system we now have.

One of the first major steps we took as a Region was to create consolidated clinical programs to manage everything from the delivery of critical and long-term care to Aboriginal health services. Indeed, as I mentioned in my last column, the fact that we are a large region should make it easier for us to take more responsibility for delivering health-care services to people living in First Nations communities in the North.

We also created strong centres of excellence, such as the Cardiac Sciences Program at St. Boniface General Hospital, the Neurosciences Program at Health Sciences Centre, the Eye Care Centre of Excellence at the Misericordia Health Centre, and the Orthopedics Surgery Program (hip and knee) at Concordia Hospital, to name just four. The creation of these unified programs and departments means we have more specialists working together, sharing expertise and, collectively, caring for more patients more efficiently. Not only does this give us a better opportunity to recruit the best and the brightest health-care providers, it also allows us to focus resources. Hospitals, for example, no longer have to compete with each other to ensure their doctors have the latest high-tech equipment because they are now all part of the same system.

Going regional also allowed us to trim administrative costs, from a high of 6.2 per cent in 2003/04 to 4.1 per cent of our current budget of $2.2 billion. That's a 33 per cent reduction, and makes us one of the country's most efficient regions.

There isn't room enough in this column to single out all the benefits of regionalization or mention every single enhancement in the delivery of care. But I will point out that our work here has not gone unnoticed.

Accreditation Canada - the national agency that sets health-care quality standards - recently singled out four of our clinical programs for "leading practice" status. As our story on page 9 points out, leading practice designations are given when a program demonstrates "high quality leadership and service delivery."

The accreditation process is important. In order to deliver the best possible care to our patients and community, we have to look at how we can improve the care we provide. We do that by measuring ourselves against national standards set by health-care providers across the country.

None of this is to suggest that we here at the Region are perfect. But, as the accreditation report suggests, we have been able to achieve some good things for the people of this community over the last decade. And I know the Region team, under the leadership of the new president and chief executive officer, will continue to build on that record of achievement in the months and years ahead.

Wave: March / April 2010

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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