Pembroke – The County of Renfrew is taking over operational responsibility for the Renfrew County Virtual Triage and Assessment Centre (RCVTAC) until the end of March as plans continue for the ongoing functioning and funding for this service which began as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is very difficult to find organizations that are really pan-Renfrew County when it comes to health care,” said Renfrew County Director of Emergency Services Mike Nolan at Renfrew County council last Wednesday. “We have multiple hospitals, multiple hospital boards, family health teams and community health centres that each have a geographic relationship to their communities. We saw this as a natural fit to move forward in advancing the work of VTAC and materially not changing it.”
There has been exceptional work done in RCVTAC and this has been stressed to the province in appeals for continued funding after the COVID-19 assessment centres are no longer needed, he added. It is important for the work of RCVTAC to continue, he said. However, it is time for a new organization to deal with the administrative load and the county was the natural choice, he explained.
“RCVTAC was established for all Renfrew County residents and the Arnprior hospital was very good to step up as was the Arnprior Family Health Team,” he said. “It has been a heavy lift for those organizations as something to do off the sides of their desks.”
Now that the family health team is back to full steam it has become an extra strain, he noted. Transferring the administrative and back-end responsibility to the County of Renfrew eases that burden, Chief Nolan said. It is also an easy progression.
“Paramedics and community paramedics have been involved since the outset predominantly in swabbing but also very involved in doing home visits, and managing people given the context of the day within the program,” he said. “We know access to primary care continues to be a significant challenge in Renfrew County.”
The family health team wants to support this activity but can no longer continue to lead the activity. As well their primary area of focus is Arnprior, he said.
VTAC has served a vital role in the county in the last year, he added, and many people have used this service. VTAC has evolved as well, he said.
“While not perfect from a primary care perspective it certainly does meet a significant need in Renfrew County,” Chief Nolan said, especially with episodic care.
From a paramedic service perspective there is a natural fit and progression which goes back to community paramedicine.
“That is to ensure people have options other than calling 911 and going to hospital emergency departments,” he said.
RCVTAC has saved resources to those who need them most by keeping people out of emergency rooms, he said.
The goal is to keep VTAC going and have 100 per cent provincial funding and support. In the future there may be change but at present VTAC is filling a void in the county, he said.
“Right now, it is serving a need and we have been able to articulate that to the minister (Minister of Health Christine Elliot),” he said.
Warden Debbie Robinson noted she was able to speak with Minister Elliot several times about the program.
“She is very interested in VTAC; she sees its value and we continue to move forward with advocacy and lobbying,” she said.
VTAC was created “out of nothing”, Admaston/Bromley Mayor Michael Donohue, who chairs the Health Committee, pointed out and is a unique response to a need which arose out of the COVID-19 pandemic. In his report, he stated throughout the last 15 months, Arnprior Regional Health has done an incredible job managing and operating the RCVTAC. He said while it was developed initially as a response to COVID-19 in a rural setting, it has since become a lifeline to many who have not had access to a physician or care outside of the emergency department for many years.
In his report he said the County of Renfrew will take this strong foundation and continue to build upon it, further strengthening partnerships and connections with community partners, family health teams, hospitals, primary care, mental health services and other community services to make a rural model of quality, accessible, cost-effective health care for residents, he stated in his report. This transition to the County of Renfrew will ensure that these essential services continue uninterrupted and will provide a stable solution until a concrete funding stream from the ministry is available.
Mayor Donohue noted the RCVTAC program is applicable across the province and scalable. The county will be taking over the operational responsibility for the program until the end of March 2022.
In the county report there was also a proposal for a Respiratory Centre and Virtual Triage and Assessment in Renfrew County and neighbouring areas. This proposal outlines the rationale, clinical model, partners, and budget for a new, scalable primary-care program serving a population of more than 100,000 in Renfrew County.
The program focuses on respiratory care and other primary-care issues. It involves virtual family physician appointments, wrap-around service referrals, and in-home visits/remote monitoring by paramedics.
The initiative incorporates the learnings and structures of RCVTAC.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader