A streamlined health care system will benefit patients, local health leaders say


by Barb McKay


The Ontario government is overhauling the province’s health care system; centralizing several agencies into one single agency, Ontario Health. It’s a move local health officials view as positive.
The ministry of health and long-term care made the announcement last Tuesday that it plans to transform the public health care system to create a new system that creates a central point of contact for patients and better connects them to the services they need.
“Too much time and attention is spent on maintaining a siloed and fragmented system,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said in announcing the new legislation. “ And far too many people believe it is the patient's - or the family's job - to navigate this complicated system during what is already one of the most traumatic and stress-filled periods in their lives.”
Elliott said currently, 30 per cent of health care dollars are spent on administrative expenses and wait times for services and long-term care beds are too long.
“One of the most frustrating aspects of all is the fact that Ontario is home to some of the world's best doctors, nurses and health care teams,” she said. But we have left them to do their best with a patchwork system simply not built to help them do their jobs. We hear from health care providers day in and day out, that they are ready for a system that encourages collaboration, partnership, and finally frees them from the system slowed by the bureaucracy constructed within it.”
There are two parts to the legislation, which has not yet passed. Several agencies and services, including 14 local health integration networks (LHINs), Cancer Care Ontario, eHealth Ontario, Health Quality Ontario, Trillium Gift of Life Network, Health Shared Services Ontario and HealthForce Ontario Marketing and Recruitment Agency would all be brought under one umbrella – Health Ontario. It will establish, the government says, a single province-wide supply chain management model.
Under Ontario Health, the government plans to establish Ontario Health Teams which would have family physicians, hospitals, home care services, long-term care, palliative care and mental health and addictions services work as one organization, so patients have one point of contact to connect to the service or program they need.
The plan also puts greater emphasis on technology and innovation by allowing patients to access their own medical records, book appointments and connect with medical specialists virtually.
Michael Barrett, interim president and CEO of the South Bruce Grey Health Centre, said the draft legislation is good news for patients.
“(Ontario Health Teams) will ensure that there are fewer ‘hand-offs’ between providers,” he said in an email to The Independent. “For example, a patient could move from their Family Health Team to hospital to home care to long-term care and only deal with one organization, as opposed to the multiple organizations they would interact with today. Although there is a lot to still figure out, I believe that the creation of Ontario Health Teams will be beneficial for patients.”
Barrett said there has been early discussion amongst health providers and organizations about what an Ontario Health Team in this region would look like.
“SBGHC will be working with its health system partners to determine whether the teams should cover the southern part of Grey and Bruce counties, all of the counties or something even larger.”
It will take some time to review the draft legislation to fully understand what the potential impact is to SBGHC and the patients it serves, Barrett said.
“I believe that the overall direction of the draft legislation is sound. The government is attempting to bring providers like hospitals, long-term care and primary care together to make it easier for patients to navigate the system. The challenge will be in implementation. The Ontario health care system is very large with many different providers. It will take considerable time to implement these changes, and it will be up to health system providers like SBGHC to make these changes as seamless as possible for patients.”
Kincardine Family Health Team CEO Gerry Glover said the organization welcomes the proposed approach to better connect health care providers.
“From a primary care perspective, more specifically from a rural primary care perspective, we are supportive of any opportunity to advance a collaborative, comprehensive and responsive approach to patient-centred care,” he said.
Glover said the healthcare landscape has not been responsive to, nor maintained pace in regards to access to services, specifically addiction services, mental health (youth, adolescent and adult psychiatry), residential long-term care planning, home care (personal support), complex diseases (COPD), Indigenous and LGBTQ2S+.
“This is not exhaustive, but reflective of a landscape at capacity,” he said.
Glover said the legislation builds on efforts happening locally. He said there is currently work underway on progressive initiatives being led by regional stakeholders to address gaps in service delivery.
“This regional strategic collaboration is intended to mitigate redundancy, streamline processes, identify opportunities for synergies and relax catchment and jurisdiction bureaucracy. That being said, there are countless committed professionals operating on a daily basis performing outstanding work – changes to legislation do not undermine that commitment, but does suggest there is opportunity for improvement to allow the system to operate in a more fluid manner.
“We remain committed to proactively working with our stakeholders to advocate for an improved healthcare delivery system that is responsive to local and regional health planning needs and that truly provides the right care; at the right place; at the right time and by the right system partner.”
Barrett said a change to Ontario’s health care system would not impact the level of care patients receive from SBGHC.
“No matter what provincial health system structure is put in place, it is our job at SBGHC to make sure it a success, and that we continue to provide high quality patient care for the people of Grey Bruce,” he said. “I will also emphasize that patients should continue to access their health providers the same way that they always have. There are no immediate changes, and any future changes will be communicated clearly in advance to the public.”


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