North Grenville is among the areas that may soon be covered by a proposed new health team also encompassing parts of Lanark County and Ottawa.
The provincial government has given the green light to 70 partners from the North Grenville, Arnprior, Carleton Place, Almonte and West Ottawa regions to apply to become an Ontario Health Team (OHT).
The partners have chosen the name Four Rivers OHT, until a more permanent name is decided.
"Organizations can be partners in more than one health team,” said Jenny Read, communications officer with Kemptville District Hospital (KDH).
An OHT is the new health care delivery model that the provincial health ministry announced in early 2019 to replace the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) system that had been in place since 2007.
It's billed as "a new way of delivering people-centred health care, by bringing together primary care, hospitals, public health and community and social services under one umbrella to help people more easily get the right care, at the right time, in the right place."
Because many health-care organizations serve several jurisdictions at once and the borders overlap, a lot of them are partnering with more than one OHT.
"The health unit is participating on all Ontario Health Teams that include some part of Leeds, Grenville and Lanark. We are actively involved in the Lanark, Leeds, Grenville Ontario Health Team that is based entirely in our region, as well as the Four Rivers Ontario Health Team that includes part of our region," said Dr. Paula Stewart, local medical officer of health.
According to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care there are four main objectives for the new integrated health teams. They are to provide improved patient and caregiver experience; improve the health of populations; reduce the per capita cost of health care; and improve the work life of providers.
"It's really about how can we make the system work more smoothly, and how can we embed those four goals in our thinking and re-imagine our health care system and make it more patient centred and provider supported," said Frank Vassallo, chief executive officer at KDH.
Becoming an Ontario Health Team is a long process and it's nowhere near complete yet.
Back in early 2019 KDH was quick to respond to the announcement and immediately started seeking partnerships with organizations interested in forming an OHT. In March 2019 KDH sent an expression of interest to the ministry of health listing 12 potential partners; by May the list of partners had grown to 28. In July the hospital was told its application had been assessed as "in development."
"The feedback was that the proposed OHT didn't cover a large enough population to meet the OHT criteria, and would need to find another smallish OHT to combine with," said Read.
The ministry has not set an exact population size for OHTs to aim for, but is encouraging group participation.
"It is fair to say that people who live in rural areas have not had the same access to services as those who live in urban or suburban areas, so our challenge is then what does make sense for rural population in how services are delivered and some of the transformation will require provincial investment," said Michelle Hurtubise, executive director of the Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre, one of the 70 partners
These partnerships are voluntary. Inclusivity is the objective, and the group will continue to gather as many organizations involved in delivering health care as possible, to leverage both their services and their ideas for better delivery, said Vassallo.
"Each OHT is responsible for developing processes to ensure they respond to the needs of all the people in their catchment area," said Stewart
In order to become a designated Ontario Health Team, a formal application process must take place. This includes, a self-assessment form submitted and reviewed by the Ontario health ministry; next the Four Rivers OHT will prepare and submit a full application; once accepted the Ontario government will conduct an in-person assessment to determine if Four Rivers is fully ready to become an Ontario Health Team. This process will take a few months yet.
The 70-member partnership that makes up the proposed Four Rivers OHT covers a vast geography, heading west from Woodroffe Avenue in Ottawa and into the Arnprior region, North Grenville, Carleton Place and Almonte.
"We have patients that go to Ottawa, so we need the partnerships with Ottawa services," said Read.
Delivering services efficiently and in a timely manner could prove difficult with such a large and geographically diverse group.
"It's definitely a challenge, but we believe every organization has ideas on how to deliver patient care and we believe that the ideas that these organizations bring will inform a better delivery system," said Vassallo, adding that in his 30 years in health care, he has rarely seen the sustained enthusiasm he's seeing on this initiative.
The goal for the first year of operation of the OHT is to focus on transforming mental health and addictions services and improving outcomes for people with certain chronic diseases across the Four Rivers geography.
"The magic will be how can we work together to deliver the care our residents deserve. I'm optimistic we're going to really make a difference this time," said Vassallo.
That optimism seems to be shared among the partners.
"COVID has really made the cracks, crevices and craters in the system more visible, and I am seeing a difference in the way people are working together to deliver better services," said Hurtubise.
A full list of the 70 partners included in the Four Rivers OHT can be found on the KDH website at www.kdh.on.ca/news/.
HEDDY SOROUR/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times