Grey Bruce is one of the latest areas to be on to the next step in the Province's creation of Ontario Health Teams.
These teams are part of the Province's large scale healthcare reform and transition away from Local Health Integrated Networks or 'LHINs,' to Ontario Health and its Ontario Health Teams.
The Province has said its aim is to deliver more coordinated care with a goal of freeing up hospital beds by smoothly transitioning patients into care in the community, or from one provider to another in the healthcare system.
Last week, the Province announced the creation of five new Health Teams. Grey Bruce is one of 17 potential Heath Teams the Province announced was moving ahead in the proposal process to become a Health Team. Health Minister Christine Elliott said in February, the plan is to eventually have 30 to 50 Ontario Heath Teams.
In a media release from the Grey Bruce Ontario Health Team Planning Committee, Co-Chair (and Hanover and District Hospital President & CEO) Dana Howes says local healthcare providers have been working on the process for over a year.
The Province says its aim is to create local structures that allow for greater communication and coordination. It says, "Focusing on patients and specific local needs, so people can more easily navigate the system and experience easy and coordinated transitions from one health care provider to another."
The local media release says in its first year, the Grey Bruce Ontario Health Team will focus on care transitions for frail seniors and patients with mental health and addiction issues. Howes explains those transitions happen along the care spectrum from hospital to home, for example, or a patient transferring from hospital to long-term care.
Howes says the idea behind Ontario Health teams is "Let's make it better for patients," adding, "Healthcare has been somewhat disjointed and frustrating for patients. We know that there are better ways to do things and through working together we'll be able to offer a more streamlined approach."
The next step for the Grey Bruce Health Team is to hire a Transitional Lead which Howes says will be paid for out of contributions of a percentage of each participating organization's budget allocated to creating the Health Team. "This will be a position that's supported by all of the partners." She says it's a position that will be accountable to Ontario Health.
The Province says local teams determine how they want to organize, and Grey Bruce's Ontario Health Team in the making includes Family Health Teams, a Community Health Centre (Markdale), Long-term Care, Home and Community Support Services, The Residential Hospice of Grey Bruce, primary care physicians, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Keystone Child Youth and Family Services, and all of Grey Bruce's Hospitals.
Howes notes, "Grey Bruce is well positioned to be an Ontario Health Team because in many ways we already function as one as a matter of necessity," She adds, "We don't have a lot of the services and resources that perhaps urban regions have, so we've always partnered well together."
Howes explains the Grey Bruce Integrated Health Coalition is made up of health partners from various sectors that's been meeting for roughly the past 25 years to talk about things like service delivery and integration. She says the Ontario Health Team Planning Committee is made up of numerous volunteers from that group.
Meanwhile, there has been criticism in Ontario that these Health Teams aren't as transparent as LHINs which have board meetings and recorded minutes, but Howes says "I don't know that I'd agree with that." She says right now, each planning committee member is accountable to their respective board. "I can tell you in Grey Bruce that we're all reporting to our boards and our boards are well informed on what we are doing as the Grey Bruce Ontario Health Team."
Howes says they've spent a lot of time thinking about how the planning committee will change into something else.
She notes, the people leading the Planning Committee right now are Executive Directors and CEOs of the various groups, but she notes when the Grey Bruce Ontario Health Team matures, the people leading the charge might be different people, other boards might form, "As this piece gets up and further into the maturation process, it will spread across our organizations to involve probably more tactile levels of leadership. I think it's about the maturation process and that this will evolve over time."
The Province says some ultimate goals for these Health Teams when they 'mature' is to offer a number of things including access to virtual care, better communication and information sharing between local healthcare providers and standardization of data across these networks of providers so they can measure and analyse outcomes and improve quality of care.
The first cohort of Ontario Health Teams Candidates was named in the fall of 2019. On July 23rd, 2020 five new Ontario Health Teams were announced.
Locally, the application is due to be submitted to the Ministry September 18th and it's estimated the Ministry will review it and respond in October. Howes notes the pandemic could change timelines.