TORONTO – Dr. Robert Bell (pictured), president of Toronto’s University Health Network has been appointed Ontario’s new deputy minister of health, putting him in charge of a $49-billion department that has been struggling to control costs. He will make the transition in June.
A former orthopedic oncologist who has led UHN for nine years, Dr. Bell will replace Saad Rafi, the veteran civil servant who resigned late last year to take over the troubled Pan Am Games organizing committee.
“To be asked to lead the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care of Canada’s largest province is something I couldn’t turn down because I want to do whatever I can to ensure that the healthcare we have today is even better quality and more affordable for our children and our grandchildren,” Dr. Bell wrote in an e-mail to UHN staff and supporters announcing his resignation.
“I anticipate that there will be days when I wish that I had never left UHN – but I have learned so much working here that will be useful in my new job.”
Educated at McGill University, the University of Toronto and Harvard University, Dr. Bell was appointed in 2005 to the post of president and CEO of UHN, which includes Toronto General Hospital, Toronto Western Hospital, the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
According to the Globe and Mail, the move will likely mean a significant pay cut for Dr. Bell. He earned $753,992 in 2012, the last year for which figures are publicly available, making him the highest paid hospital boss in the province. Mr. Rafi earned $427,551.76 the same year.
“He’s very aspirational. He knows what Ontario’s health system could be and he knows how to get there,” Health Minister Deb Matthews told the Globe and Mail. “He’s going to really drive change.”
Dr. Bell’s background gives him some unique advantages. As the leader of the country’s largest research hospital network for nine years, he has an insider’s knowledge of front-line health care.
But, having never worked in the bureaucracy, he also brings a rare outsider’s perspective. “Generally speaking, it’s very hard to recruit external people into the ministry of health. Yet external people can be of enormous value because of their hands-on experience in running the system,” said Graham Scott, a healthcare consultant and a deputy health minister in the 1980s.
“That’s why I think this is a considerable coup for the ministry.”