Local professionals leading the creation of the Couchiching Ontario Health Team are optimistic and excited about the new approach to health care.
Ontario Health Teams (OHTs) are being created as the province plans to phase out Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs), and Orillia’s Couchiching Family Health Team is the lead organization that is in the process of establishing an OHT for this region. It was one of 31 groups chosen for the first wave of OHTs, after more than 150 applied.
“It’s about savings and efficiencies, but also about the patient experience,” said Dr. Kim McIntosh, sub-region clinical lead and a local family physician. “You can have better patient outcomes and you can have better experiences with less money.”
While LHINs have a strong focus on the administrative side of health care, OHTs are about sharing resources among various care providers to relieve the burden on them as well as patients.
If all goes as planned, it will lead to shorter wait times as care providers in a number of areas work more closely together to address patients’ needs.
For example, a nurse who makes home visits could assess patients in their homes, provide some treatment and forward the information to a family physician. That could save patients from having to go to their family doctors so often and wait to be seen.
The spirit of collaboration is not new to those in local health care. The North Simcoe Muskoka LHIN has a “planning table” that has been meeting for a few years with the focus of working together to improve care.
“I think that’s why we’ve been successful (with the OHT proposal), because we’ve had those relationships for a while,” McIntosh said.
The Couchiching OHT planning is happening with social determinants of health in mind, and this region has its own needs.
“In the Couchiching region, we are slightly older and slightly poorer than our provincial counterparts,” McIntosh said.
That’s why the group is working with more than 20 organizations, including Building Hope.
It has also been working with Indigenous communities in the area as well as local municipalities as it prepares to submit an application to become a fully operational OHT.
“It’s not a family health team application. It’s a community application,” said Lynne Davies, executive director of the Couchiching Family Health Team.
While there is plenty of talk about sharing resources, including staff, McIntosh doesn’t want health-care workers to worry.
“There isn’t any expectation people will have to change jobs or work for another employer,” she said.
“What we can’t expect is our current (doctors) to do more,” McIntosh added, referring to the number of patients being seen by physicians. “That burden is shared across a team.”
Naturally, Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH) is a major partner in this process.
OSMH president and CEO Carmine Stumpo believes it will lead to “a better self-managed population” that will be able to navigate the system more easily than they can now and have a single point of contact for their various needs.
The need for health professionals to work together has always been recognized by OSMH, he said, but added, “I’m not sure we’ve always appreciated that solutions need to come from collaborations.”
“We are fundamentally changing the way we work with each other,” he said. “That makes it much different than just planning across agencies.”
While he is excited about the changes to come, “things aren’t going to change overnight.”
“I see this as a longer-term strategy,” he said.
The OHT application must be submitted by Oct. 9, and it will likely take a couple of months for the province to review it and respond.
The Couchiching OHT plans to hold community consultation, though details have not yet been determined.