Closson report a ‘road map’ for region’s health care

A report released last week about the integration of health services in Northwestern Ontario contains important recommendations that will be helpful to board members on the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), the CEO of Riverside Health Care Facilities, Inc. said.
“The report gives the LHIN basically a road map of ideas that they can follow and follow up on,” noted Wayne Woods. “Hopefully, the LHIN is going to pay heed to the Closson report because there is a lot of good stuff in there.”
Last May, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care chose Tom Closson to work with the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and other local health providers to assemble the report.
“That was set up specifically to look at the issues for Thunder Bay and then it broadened out after that,” said Woods, who sat on the steering committee.
“We did look at the whole health care system in the northwest, but originally the intent was to look specifically at Thunder Bay,” he noted.
As first reported in last Wednesday’s Times, Closson’s final report contains 21 recommendations on how to better integrate local health care services, including acute hospital care, primary care, long-term care, mental health and addiction, and regional health management.
The purpose of the LHINs themselves are to improve planning and integration at the local level in order to improve health care service for patients.
The roles of the 14 provincial LHINs are being phased in over time.
The founding board members for the North West LHIN are Dr. John Whitfield (chair), Janice Beazley (vice-chair), and Ennis Fiddler. Gwen DuBois-Wing is the CEO.
All LHINs are expected to have a full complement of nine board members by the end of the year. “Certainly, the LHINs will have an impact on how health care is delivered,” Woods said.
The networks are not expected to be fully phased-in until 2008, however.
“The LHIN is just coming together now,” remarked Woods. “It’s going to be a little while yet before they get moving.”
Closson’s report is intended to help the North West LHIN in its long-term goals.
Among the recommendations, Closson calls for expanded long-term care places in the region, including 29 supportive housing units in Kenora and 192 in Thunder Bay, along with 149 equivalent long-term home care places there.
He also calls for 58 supportive housing places, 93 equivalent long-term home care places, and 57 nursing home beds in the District of Thunder Bay.
Notably absent is a recommendation for more places in Rainy River District.
“I guess the feeling is with Rainycrest and what we have in Emo, Rainy River, and the chronic care here, supposedly we have enough,” Woods said.
“Certainly, Rainycrest being closed to admissions definitely impacts the waiting list [for long-term care],” he added. “Now, if we can get it re-opened for admissions, then that may take care of some of the problems.”
Closson also addressed the shortage of health-care professionals in the region.
“There is a severe shortage of health human resources in Northwestern Ontario and it continues to be extremely difficult to attract staff,” Closson wrote in his report.
“A collaborative, unified approach to recruiting staff to Northwestern Ontario will be much more effective than current disjointed approaches.”
While the idea sounds good, Woods said a unified strategy will not change the fact northern municipalities are competing for the same professionals.
“The difficulty is going to be, even though we’re all part of the northwest, we’re in competition with each other trying to recruit these people,” he noted.
“Fort Frances competes with Dryden, Kenora, Sioux Lookout, and Thunder Bay,” he added. “It all comes down to, ‘Do you have the community that those professionals desire?’”
Closson’s report was delivered to the North West LHIN last Monday.
“The North West Ontario LHIN will carefully consider the recommendations in Tom Closson’s report,” noted Dr. Whitfield. “The insights and advice were the result of broad community input, and will challenge us to work together to raise the quality of local health care.”
Closson is a former president and CEO of the University Health Network.