A new health care system unveiled in Ottawa Friday will help free up hospital beds and improve care for patients, including those who need home care and long-term care, the Ontario government says.
The Ottawa Health Team is one of 24 such organizations that will initially take over responsibilities from Ontario's Local Health Integration Networks, which are in the process of being dissolved.
The new health teams aim to better connect community health care centres with hospitals, meals-on-wheels services, addiction recovery supports and long-term care facilities, said Health Minister Christine Elliott.
They will also help hospital patients return to the community, she added.
"It just makes it a lot easier for people," Elliott said.
'Connected, integrated care'
Elliott said that eventually, each patient will have a single record and care plan that will help the team address their specific needs — and hopefully provide better care.
"The team is going to work together to make sure when somebody is admitted to hospital, for whatever procedure they need to have, they're already looking at their recovery and how they can be returned home," Elliott said.
The new system will hopefully also prevent needless trips back to the emergency room departments, Elliott added.
"What people will notice, when the health team is fully up and running, is that they're having more connected, integrated care [so] that those issues with respect to transitions, will be dealt with," she said.
"They will have care navigation services and one number to call if they have any concerns."
The teams will initially focus on helping frail or elderly people, as well as those with mental health issues and addictions, said Simone Thibault, executive director of the Centretown Community Health Centre.
"Often those are the people who end up in emergency that could have been better cared for in the community," said Thibault, whose organization is one of the team's initial partners.
Thibault said the Ottawa Health Team will first monitor the success of their approach by evaluating "a few hundred" patients, and then expanding until it includes everyone within its region.
"We know the system's not working," she said. "It's complicated, and we just want to simplify the system."
Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, remains skeptical of the province's strategy.
"I've been doing this for 20 years, and governments have been saying that … this plan or that plan or what have you will facilitate moving people out of hospitals," said Mehra, whose group advocates for public health care.
She believes patients are already shifted into home care as soon as spots are available, and that they only languish in hospital when long-term care beds don't exist.
"We don't see how the health teams are going to actually help the demand and supply problems," said Mehra.
She also has questions about oversight, arguing more could be done to make the teams transparent and accountable to both patients and the public.
"We are quite concerned because [with] the previous iterations of these types of things there was at least public governance. There was a written plan, there was public oversight, there were meetings," she said.
"The Ontario Health Teams have no such thing. There's no meeting to [attend], there's no minutes of the meeting, there's no clarity around what they're planning."
Won't save province money
Ontario Health will continue to be the governing body over the health teams, including Ottawa's, Elliott said.
Money will flow from Ontario Health to the local teams, the minister added, and they can organize in anyway they see fit, be it partnerships or corporations.
"They will have a budget that they will receive for the care of all of the people within their geographic area, and there will be an agreement between Ontario Health and the local team that sets standards and expectations that go along with the money," Elliott said.
The new model is not expected to save the province money, Elliott said.
The initial partners behind the Ottawa Health Team are:
- Bruyère Continuing Care
- Carefor Health and Community Services
- Carlington Community Health Centre
- Centretown Community Health Centre
- Ottawa Inner City Health, Inc.
- Ottawa Public Health
- Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre
- Sandy Hill Community Health Centre
- Somerset West Community Health Centre
- South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre
- The Ottawa Hospital