Five neighbouring municipalities in Lapland signed on to a gargantuan 15-year health care plan last Friday with the private Mehiläinen health concern. The 1 billion-euro deal is the largest-ever outsourcing in Finland's healthcare branch.
The municipalities of Keminmaa, Kemi, Tornio, Simo and Länsi-Pohja together constitute Meri-Lappi or "Sea Lapland". The collaboration is crucial to social and health services in the sparsely populated region, where each separate municipality's role in the coming service reform has long been uncertain.
Without the outsourcing agreement, the Länsi-Pohja central hospital in Kemi would have to have been downsized to a regular health centre, while hospital services would have moved all the way to Rovaniemi some 100 km away.
Chair of the talks and city manager for Tornio, Timo Nousiainen says that a new company to oversee health services under the "sote" reform will be founded in summer 2018.
Just before their Christmas vacations, Parliament agreed on a bill that will restrict municipalities from outsourcing any more than 30 percent of their social and health services, capped at the reform's planned full launch year, 2020.
In contrast, the Meri-Lappi deal for the five municipalities is set to run into 2032 and accounts for almost 50 percent of local services. But it holds water nevertheless: the restriction bill has not yet received the President's confirmation and is thus not applicable to any agreement signed before the New Year.
The deal was hammered out without a proper investigation into the region's potential service models, according to two auditors from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
Two ex-ministers were chosen in November to draft an investigation into how Lapland could cope collectively with the health reform. The last-minute Ministry picks, Maija Rask and Hannes Manninen, both said there was not enough time to conduct a thorough study of the region's possible non-outsourced service models.
Rask and Manninen told local papers earlier last week that they had been extremely busy with their work but that no real headway had been made. While their work was underway, the five-way deal with Mehiläinen was pushed through.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on Friday criticised the decision.