Community is one step closer to an Ontario Health Team

By Cecilia Nasmith

Following months of intensive planning and work, the Ontario Health Team of Northumberland Collaborative Planning Committee has submitted a final-stage application to the province to form the Ontario Health Team of Northumberland.

The provincial government introduced OHTs in March as a new model of health-care delivery that better connects different parts of the health-care system by bringing together patients, residents, families, communities, providers and system leaders in a single team to deliver a coordinated continuum of care within a defined geographic area. Even if they belong to different organizations or are sited in different physical locations, team members will work together toward common goals for strengthening local programs and services, improving access and quality of care.

Local participants who put together the application for the Ontario Health Team of Northumberland included patient, care-giver and First Nation representatives, both county hospitals, primary care providers and physician specialists, community health centres and family health teams, long-term care, home- and community-care support services, Emergency Medical Services, hospice palliative care, housing and mental-health representatives.

This group was one of 31 the province invited in July to develop a full application based on self-assessment submissions to the province in the spring.

The proposal being submitted this week seeks to amplify patient and caregiver voices within the health-care system and better align health care stakeholders and providers, closing gaps and improving the co-ordination of care and services.

While the province’s vision is to have all care coordinated through OHTs in the future, the announcement said, the first OHTs will be expected to test local application of the integrated-care concept through targeted projects serving specific populations.

In Year One, the Northumberland OHT will focus on access to comprehensive health-care services for rural populations within Northumberland County – specifically those who experience significant barriers to health care. Based on input and data gathered to date, efforts will be focused on several proposed projects.

The Volunteer Peer Support initiative will match key volunteers with those in the community who require informal support, broadening their social network and assisting them to navigate and access the health care services they need.

The Community Paramedicine initiative will leverage the skills and training of Northumberland Paramedics to provide proactive services for patients who use 9-1-1 services in the face of such challenges as system gaps and access to community care. This will include remote patient monitoring as appropriate.

Rural Outreach Clinics will see multiple partners bringing services and clinicians together to rural community locations to reduce barriers to care patients in small, rural areas may experience, such as access, transportation and outreach challenges.

Recognizing the critical importance of partnerships with patients and caregivers in the planning, design and governance of OHTs, the Northumberland proposal also emphasizes the Team’s commitment to patient-caregiver partnership and community engagement through a number of features, including patient and caregiver representation within all the Team's governance, planning and project team structures – as well as:

  • Adoption of a Patient-Caregiver Partnership and Community Engagement Framework that reflects international best practices and the Patient Declaration of Values for Ontario, setting out the commitment to ongoing consultation to validate proposed Year One projects, assess the local services and supports needed most, and inform future-year priorities.

  • Creation of Northumberland's first county-wide Patient and Family Advisory Council.

  • The intent to establish a future role for a local Ombudsperson.

The announcement included congratulations from Northumberland-Peterborough South MPP David Piccini for demonstrating a true understanding of the intent behind the new OHT model and ensuring the voices of patient and caregiver representatives are embedded in the team's governance, advisory and consultation plans.

“OHTs will improve how people connect to and navigate our health-care system, closing gaps and improving patient and caregiver experience.” Piccini pledged.

Scott MacPherson, a patient representative on the collaborative planning committee, expressed his belief in the positive change that can be effected by placing the patient at the centre of system design and implementation.

“The province confirmed that Northumberland’s initial self-evaluation, submitted in May, demonstrated a strong commitment to the vision of a patient-centered integrated health-care system, and a high state of readiness to move forward collaboratively,” MacPherson said.

“As a moderate-to-heavy user of the healthcare system since my youth, I have appreciated the opportunity to contribute my perspective and key learnings to this process, and I look forward to facilitating future implementation.”

Northumberland Family Health Team primary-care physician Dr. Erin Pepper said that more than 90% of the county's primary-care physicians have signed on in support of the OHT initiative. And Northumberland Hills Hospital president and chief executive officer Linda Davis considers the model “a unique opportunity for local organizations to go beyond our previous partnerships to actually co-design, with patients and providers, specific, tangible improvements to enhance the delivery of care in our community.

“We believe we have developed a proposal for service delivery that will improve health outcomes, patient and provider experience, and value for Northumberland residents.”

The province has confirmed that the first OHTs will be announced this fall.