Matthews bows out of leadership race, focus instead on health care “transitions”

Health Minister Deb Matthews says she is not seeking the Ontario Liberal leadership.

Matthews made the formal announcement at the Ontario Hospital Association HealthAchieve this morning, ending weeks of speculation.

Noting how rare it was for a health minister to be addressing her fourth OHA HealthAchieve, Matthews said she wanted to remain on as Health Minister.

Many believed that the entrance of Kathleen Wynne into the leadership contest meant that Deb Matthews would stay out.

She told the half-filled hall that the next step in “Matthews hierarchy of health care needs” is to work on transitions of care so that nobody falls between the cracks.

The health minister drew a metaphor between the present health system and a relay running team. Relay runners practice both speed and handoff of the baton.

In recent years health care providers had improved speed, she said, but we need to do better on the passing of the baton. She specifically noted there should be a brief time when two hands are on the baton.

Matthews acknowledged that there was innovation taking place in the system, including a new patient monitoring system at the Ajax-Pickering site of the Rouge Valley Health System. In that ER, patients are given devices that allow the hospital to track them in real time. Not only does the hospital know how long patients have been waiting, but where they are located within the ER. She said the results have made a significant difference in emergency waits at Rouge.

The Health Minister also highlighted a program in her home town of London where the hospital was working on a project to move ventilator patients out of the ICU and into more humane community-based settings.

She also applauded St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton for developing a single phone line for patients with lung cancer, COPD, or joint replacements. Instead of making patients figure out their pathway, the hospital was doing it for them. The endeavor at St. Joseph’s was also reducing paperwork so that home care nurses could spend more time with their patients.

Matthews acknowledged there was much work left to do. While our health system compared favourably to the United States, comparisons were less favourable against other nations.

The health minister says we are still spending our money on the wrong things.

She noted that access to primary care, while more widely available under her watch, was still delayed. Half of Ontarians can get same day or next day appointments with their primary care provider compared to 80 per cent in the UK or Switzerland.

The lack of alternatives means that Canada leads the pack in the number of ER visits and delays to see a specialist.

Half of Ontarians don’t get specific instructions upon hospital discharge.

“These are system problems,” she said, “not the problems of people who work in the system.”

Matthews also set the stage for the province’s Seniors Strategy, which has been made the responsibility of Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Geriatrics at Mt. Sinai Hospital and the University Health Network. She says it is not only up to Sinha to develop the strategy, but also to implement it. The Seniors’ Strategy report is expected this fall, which Sinha himself reminds us goes to December 20.

The Ministry also plans to put out a “call” for innovative projects.

“Our new motto is if it’s better for patients and better value for money, then yes we can,” she said.

She also announced that a new associate deputy minister has been appointed to “drive transformation.”

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