It’s official: Baffin board switches from Montreal to Ottawa

As expected, members of the Baffin Regional Health and Social Services Board this week voted to move southern specialist services from Montreal to Ottawa.

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

ANNETTE BOURGEOIS
Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT The Baffin Regional Health and Social Services Board voted Wednesday morning to move their southern specialist services from Montreal to Ottawa.

The board had been looking at transferring southern specialist services from Montreal-based McGill University to the Ottawa Heart Institute for more than a year.

That decision doesn’t mean that all Baffin patients must travel to Ottawa to get services, however. The board agreed that patients with long-standing relationships with Montreal doctors could continue visiting their specialists in Montreal, and that decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis.

All new patient referrals will be made to the Ottawa Heart Institute.

Ottawa promises flexibility

A team from Ottawa spent an hour Tuesday afternoon explaining how a partnership between their institution and the board would improve health-care services for Baffin residents. Dr Tim Cheung, Linda Hunter and Roda Grey brought a message of concern and co-operation.

“We would like to allay your fears and put them to rest,” Linda Hunter, manager of the Baffin-Ottawa project, told board members about the move from Montreal to Ottawa.

She also brought a message of flexibility. Inflexibility was one of the main stumbling blocks between the board and the administration of the McGill-Baffin program.

“We’d like to change along with your needs,” Hunter said. “We can move our management style in a manner conducive to keeping up with them.”

The reluctance to change and the inability of the McGill administration to solve persistent problems such as the inconsistent transfer of patient information were cited as two of 50 complaints about the McGill service by a committee that studied the relationship.

The hurdle of the French language for unilingual Inuit and the large size of Montreal were other common complaints.

The committee presented only 14 strengths of the McGill-Baffin contract, including the continuity of specialist care and the low turnover of social workers.

The Ottawa team outlined a plan that would allow services to begin to be transferred from Montreal in October. That plans includes continuing the timetable already established by McGill for specialist visits to the North.

Transfer will take a year

Hunter suggested it would take nearly a year to move the entire system from Montreal to Ottawa.

“As with any new program, it will take a number of months upwards of eight months to take on the full services,” she told the board.

The Ottawa team also suggested ways a partnership would encourage technological advances in the health system in the Baffin region. The region and the Heart Institute have been working together for several months to provide a telemedicine system of health care for patients in two remote Baffin communities.

The Ottawa hospital has already begun work on an electronic database of health information and a computerized system of patient records.

Some members against move

Some board members initially wanted any decision on a move to be delayed until they could consult their communities. Joe Arlooktoo, who represents Kimmirut, brought a petition to the meeting with signatures from people who don’t want the service moved from Montreal.

Ann Hanson, the chair of the Baffin board, said she will write to everyone who expressed concerns about the move to explain the board’s position and why they chose to make the move.

Whether or not transferring the service will save money or not wasn’t discussed at the public board meeting, but in recent weeks, Pat Kermeen, the board’s chief executive officer, said the board could save as much as $400,000 by severing its tie with the McGill-Baffin program. Most of those savings were expected in administration costs.

Kermeen had been talking with Ottawa officials since the fall of 1996 about transferring the service. In May, the board was informed that funding had been sent to Ottawa to begin organizing the process.

In July, a group of representatives from the Ottawa Heart Institute spent a week touring health facilities in Iqaluit, Pond Inlet and Kimmirut.

On September 1, the relationship between the McGill-Baffin program and the board was officially severed.

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