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Orillia chosen as one of province's first 24 Ontario Health Teams

'It's a significant day' that puts 'Orillia on the map,' says Dunlop; Year 1 of new Ontario Health Team will focus on improving care for region's frail seniors

When Kim McIntosh came to Orillia 18 years ago, she felt something special - within the walls of Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH), within her family medicine practice and within the community.

“I remember when I first came to Orillia, I thought this place is amazing .. we do good things. Let’s put (this city) on the map,” she said.

On Friday, McIntosh helped do just that as the province announced the Couchiching Ontario Health Team had been formally approved as one of Ontario’s first 24 such entities.

The announcement was made, on behalf of health minister Christine Elliott, by Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop, who called it “a significant day” for the city.

“After an extensive readiness assessment process and a tremendous amount of thought, time, collaboration, research and effort,” Dunlop said she was pleased to announce that the new Couchiching Ontario Health Team had been selected to “implement this new model of care that better connects patients and providers in their communities to improve patient outcomes.”

The proclamation drew thunderous applause from dozens of people crammed into the atrium of the Couchiching Family Health Team facility on Memorial Avenue late Friday afternoon.

McIntosh, who will serve as the clinical lead for the new health team, said the support of community partners has been critical to the success of the team’s development.

“Their involvement is so key,” she said, noting “50 per cent of any human being’s wellbeing relates to social determinants of health.”

She said stable housing, food security, reliable transportation and other elements are critical - perhaps even more important than medical care.

Her job, “prescribing tablets … medical care as it’s traditionally known is 25 percent of that well-person scenario.” For the rest, she said, people rely “on all the folks in this room.”

That co-ordinated approach will be key, said Carmine Stumpo, CEO of OSMH.

“It is absolutely inspiring to think what is possible when an entire community comes together to improve the health and well being of their citizens,” said Stumpo.

He said many people have been working doggedly behind the scenes for many months to stickhandle this process.

He noted a key moment in the evolution came about two months ago at Geneva Park. On that Friday, almost 100 people from more than 30 organizations came together for a common purpose.

“The energy that day was incredible,” said Stumpo.

Stumpo said during Year 1 the focus for the new Ontario Health Team will be on frail seniors. He said the goal is to avoid making them feel like they have to go to the hospital to get care.

To that end, he said the group will work to improve care co-ordination, enhance effectiveness, improve connections and improve how things are communicated.

“We’re excited,” said Stumpo, who admitted the “work is just beginning. But it’s the work we want to be doing - bringing people together for a shared purpose - integrating care.”

And unlike previous health-care models, in which the patients and care providers were sometimes not included, Ontario Health Teams are meant to have a patient focus, explained Susan Langlois.

The retired clinical trialist has been a volunteer at OSMH since she came to Orillia four years ago. She is the Couchiching Ontario Health Team’s first chair of its patient and family advisory committee.

“Improving patient and caregiver experience is a significant focus of Ontario Health Teams,” asid Langlois, who noted input from patients and caregivers will continue to inform the process.

“That helps care providers better understand opportunities for improvement,” Langlois said, noting these are “very exciting times.”

While exciting, it will take time. 

According to a media release, the Couchiching Ontario Health Team will put in place 24/7 navigation and care coordination services for patients and families. 

Initially, a focused group of patients will receive these services through their integrated primary care teams and the broader Ontario Health Team partners. 

This work will be implemented in phases and over time will provide care for everyone within the Couchiching Ontario Health Team’s population.

“Couchiching has a strong history of multidisciplinary and multi-sector partnerships that will continue to serve as our foundation for care coordination and patient centred care,” said McIntosh. “We will co-design our system with patients and families to ensure that goal is met.”

After the official press conference, Dunlop told OrilliaMatters she was "thrilled" to make this announcement in her own riding.

"Kudos to this group," said Dunlop. "I love to see little Orillia on the map in this way. It's fantastic news for the area."