Councillors support health team proposal, offer more collaboration
By Sue Tiffin
County council supports the work done by health services organizations in Haliburton County that have proposed a unified Haliburton Highlands Ontario Health Team in response to plans by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to transform the provincial health system, but told Carolyn Plummer, president and CEO of Haliburton Highlands Health Services, they want to be more involved in initiatives where their political clout might help.
Plummer spoke to Bill 74, the People’s Health Care Act, which received royal assent in April of this year, at a May 22 meeting of county council.
“The goals of the legislation are to help improve the experience of patients and clients across the health system in Ontario to create a more connected, more seamless system, to improve transitions in care, to improve health outcomes, and to help people to be able to better navigate the system,” she said.
Two major changes are expected, according to Plummer: one is the creation of a single agency called Ontario Health which brings together a number of provincial agencies under one umbrella, the second is the establishment of Ontario Health Teams, intended to connect health providers within different communities across the province to bring services together and provide a full and coordinated continuum of care specifically for patients and families in local areas.
Services do not need to be co-located, and organizations do not necessarily need to integrate as single entities. The goal, said Plummer, is improved health outcomes, improved experience and better value for money.
“We had a number of local health service provider organizations come together when the legislation was first introduced and when the expression of interest first came out, a number of groups came together almost right away here in Haliburton to start talking about how we wanted to address this,” said Plummer.
Initially the ministry described OHTs to be put in place in communities with populations of 50,000 to 300,000, but later dropped the low-range requirement. A decision was made locally to focus specifically on a Haliburton Highlands Ontario Health Team as opposed to partnering with communities beyond county borders, according to Plummer, and the group submitted a self-assessment proposing the HHOHT last week.
“In part the decision was made because of the commitment of the partners around the table,” she said.
A joint media release issued by eight local health services organizations reads:
“The proposed HHOHT would bring together as partners, various local health services providers who already have extensive experience working together to provide comprehensive and integrated health care, and developing innovative solutions to improve access to care for the Haliburton Highlands population. Building on previous collaborations such as the Rural Health Hub and Youth Wellness Hub, the HHOHT partners represent the full spectrum of health services, including hospital, primary care, home care, community services, mental health, long-term care, and midwifery services.”
Partners include Haliburton Highlands Health Services, Haliburton Highlands Family Health Team, Kawartha North Family Health Team, Midwifery Services of Haliburton-Bancroft, Point in Time Centre for Children, Youth and Parents, Extendicare, Paramed and CarePartners.
“The partners that have come together here in Haliburton Highlands represent the full spectrum of health services and we’re very proud to be able to say that,” Plummer told councillors.
Warden Liz Danielsen said she appreciated both the work done, and the “made-in-Haliburton” solution.
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt asked if anyone was missing in the organizations that had teamed up to be involved. Plummer responded that nobody was missing, but that the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit could not sign off as a full partner because of ongoing changes due to the government’s proposed health unit merger.
If the initiative is not approved, Moffatt asked, what were Plummer’s worst fears for absorption?
“I don’t know if I would call it a fear so much, but there is always a chance, one of the things the ministry’s indicated, is that through this initial self-assessment process, they may, as they receive self-assessments, they may look at what they receive and determine that it makes sense from their perspective for certain communities to come together and work together,” said Plummer.
“Just as an example they may say, Haliburton you’re doing some great things, but you also do a lot of work with City of Kawartha Lakes; you guys should come together and resubmit a single self-assessment. That is something that could happen – the ministry has been very clear about that. They haven’t given us any sense of how they will decide that, but that certainly is a concern.”
Plummer said there are both opportunities and concerns if the HHOHT proposal is not accepted.
“Obviously there’s opportunities to have access to greater infrastructure, greater resources,” said Plummer, “but the concern that I would have is that being a small community and being distant enough from those larger centres, my concern is that the specific needs of our local population wouldn’t be understood, recognized or served in the way that they would be if we had local control over the overall health-care resources for our area, that would be my biggest concern.”
Moffatt said she appreciated the work done and the timelines that needed to be met, but questioned, “could no one have picked up the phone and made a phone call to say, ‘hey, we’ve got this coming in, this is how the county can be involved?’”
Moffatt recommended a county representative be involved with the board moving forward.
“We can’t help you in making decisions – we don’t want to run health care, it’s not our job – but there are opportunities where we might be able to help on the political side, whether it’s social media or meetings, who knows who’s meeting with anyone, where, on what issue. We can’t help you if we don’t know about it. In the face of changing times, [I’m] seeing there needs to be better communication or cooperation … some better way to know.”
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin agreed, noting the councillors have opportunities to meet directly with ministers and their staff as well as the premier at meetings throughout the year.
“You can’t get to those meetings and we can,” he said. Both he and Moffatt used the example of their collaboration with the Coalition for Equitable Water Flow through the Upper Trent Watershed Management Partnership, which brings concerned residents and representatives from municipal government together.
He told Plummer a more formal role with council could be “a huge powerful tool to you.”
“I just think it’s really important to consider how you can better use us, for what we can bring to the table for you, as opposed to saying, we’ve made this decision, by the way, here you go, we’ve done this,” said Moffatt. “We just want to be more involved.”
Plummer said a government relations component was being included with the terms of reference of the HHHS executive committee.
According to government timelines, after assessments are validated and reviewed, shortlisted organizations will be approved early-June and can submit a full application due mid-July. The ministry will make site visits prior to first OHTs being designated in fall 2019.