Healthcare workers in the palliative care unit of St. Michael's Hospital. Approved in August by the Ontario Ministry of Health and the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network, the system starts with primary care and research at St. Michael’s Hospital, expands to community care at St. Joseph’s and is rounded out by rehabilitation and long-term care at Providence. Photo by Michael Swan

Merger creates largest Catholic healthcare network

By 
  • January 14, 2018

Toronto’s new, giant, still-unnamed Catholic health care network has its first boss lined up and with him a commitment to help engineer a better health system in Canada from the bottom up.

Dr. Tim Rutledge will take over as CEO of the newly amalgamated Catholic network of St. Michael’s Hospital, Providence Healthcare and St. Joseph’s Health Centre on March 19. The new entity employs more than 10,000 people and begins its life as Canada’s largest Catholic health care provider. Rutledge had been CEO at North York General Hospital since 2010.

The world-leading research at St. Michael’s Hospital’s Centre for Urban Health Solutions holds the key to understanding both the legacy and the hopes of the new network, said Rutledge. The tiny, elite research centre, which has published in most of the world’s leading medical journals, specializes in care for the homeless, the destitute and the vulnerable.

“If you can get it right for the disadvantaged — and I’m particularly inspired by that — you can get it right for the whole society,” he told The Catholic Register. “If we’re going to make a difference in Canadian hea

lth care, we have to be very mindful of the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised.”

Tim Rutledge

Caring for that segment of the population was exactly why the Sisters of St. Joseph established all three Catholic health care institutions between 1857 (the original House of Providence) and 1921 (St. Joseph’s). St. Michael’s started operating in 1892.

“We are confident that the sisters’ legacy will endure,” CSJ congregational leader Sr. Thérése Munier said in an email. What that means is “innovative, compassionate care to all who come through their doors.”

“That urban angel brand, if you will, is real,” said Rutledge. “It’s perceived externally. It’s awesome. It’s inspiring. It’s honourable. That legacy, I think, is foundational. It’s still alive and well today.”

In size, the new network will surpass Covenant Health in Alberta and Providence Health in Vancouver, but the most important factor in merging the three institutions will be how the parts combine into a whole, said Catholic Health Alliance of Canada president and CEO Mike Shea.

“It’s important that organizations have access to the expertise and have the leverage to operate in this complex environment. While size is not the only factor, it is an important one in ensuring success,” Shea said.

Approved in August by the Ontario Ministry of Health and the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network, the process of combining the three Catholic institutions is far from complete. But the purpose was never just to get bigger, said Rutledge.

“It brings three great hospitals together in a way that creates a system.”

The system starts with primary care and research at St. Michael’s Hospital, expands to community care at St. Joseph’s and is rounded out by rehabilitation and long-term care at Providence, he said.

“All three have this reputation for being there for people who need them the most.”

Among the many issues facing the new network is dealing with labour contracts.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees has accused St. Michael’s of intimidating non-unionized employees into signing on to new terms and conditions of work before they get an opportunity to join the union.

CUPE president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions Michael Hurley, however, is confident the Catholic tradition of respecting workers and their rights will get the two sides talking about what’s fair.

“We’re not dealing with a rogue institution,” he said.

Rutledge also walks into his new job knowing he will be called on to defend the new network’s right not to participate in legal voluntary euthanasia. “Organizations have a right to establish their values. These hospitals are there for their patients. They will never abandon their patients.”

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