Members of town council offered their two cents last week to a representative of the North West Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) as to how health care could be improved here.
Jessica Logozzo, director of Health System Development and Integration for the North West LHIN, spoke to council last Tuesday about how it is striving to create an integrated service delivery network that includes primary care-givers, inter-professional health-care teams, hospitals, public health, mental health and addictions, and home and community care “to ensure a more seamless patient experience.”
Coun. Wendy Brunetta said she would like to see more specialists come here to see patients instead of a whole bunch of local residents having to travel to see them.
“I’ve talked to several people who have to doctor out of town and they take an extra day to drive there, they pay for a hotel overnight, and then they go to a waiting room where they sit all day long–a whole waiting room full of people from Fort Frances,” she remarked.
“Why couldn’t the specialist or doctor come to Fort Frances–one person driving by themselves, addressing all of the patients they need to see,” added Coun. Brunetta.
“It seems like we’re accommodating them instead of putting our patients first.”
Coun. Ken Perry questioned plans to add primary-care models–but not physicians–as health-service providers funded by LHINs.
“What do we do with health-care models if we don’t have any physicians to back them up and work for them?” he asked.
Coun. Perry noted one nurse practitioner at the clinic here had to take leave due to health reasons and the result was there were no walk-in clinics for three months.
“We can announce that we have walk-in clinics seven days a week but we still have nobody to look after them,” he said.
“The doctors are stretched to the limit,” Coun. Perry added.
“If it wasn’t for locums, I don’t know if the emergency department would be open all of the time because our locums are looking after that part of it, along with our regular doctors.
“Our doctors are stretched to the limit, our nurse practitioners are stretched to the limit,” he reiterated.
“We do not have the people here to do the work that needs to be done.”
Logozzo said the LHIN is aware there’s a gap in primary care when it comes to physicians.
“We understand that just counting the number of physicians in an area doesn’t represent the capacity within the area,” she conceded.
“So part of the work we’re doing, in terms of planning for primary care, is really deeply understanding what the capacity for primary care within each of the local health hubs or each of the regions look like,” added Logozzo.
“How are they practising and what does that access look like; not just how many physicians are practising in an area but what does access look like . . . to really understand where we need to invest further.”
Coun. June Caul said she would like to more assisted living provided for local seniors.
“I know the LHIN says they have assisted living at Green Manor in Fort Frances, which I do not think is appropriate,” she remarked.
“There isn’t enough assistance there for people and there isn’t enough room for the number of people who need it.”
Coun. Caul noted that even though the province wants to try to keep seniors in their own homes, “lots of times that’s the most dangerous place for them to be.”
“They’re there for 24 hours a day by themselves quite often,” she remarked. “If they’re lucky, they have a worker who comes in once a day for maybe half an hour to an hour–the rest of the time, they’re by themselves.
“That’s why assisted living buildings are important to me,” Coun. Caul stressed. “I think we need that kind of thing and we have not yet been able to find anybody who is willing to work with us and try to get some funding or whatever.
“That’s something I sure would like to see accomplished in this area.”
Coun. Perry later added that even if we had enough assisted living facilities, as it is right now, there would not be enough trained health-care staff to look after them.
Distance to access some health-care services also is a key issue here.
“Because we live so far away from Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, and the places people need to have to go for MRIs or specialists, transportation is a real issue here,” Coun. Caul said.
“That’s a big concern for an awful lot of people here who have no way to get to those places or have the funds to do it,” she added.
“That’s another issue I hope you’re thinking about dealing with.”
Logozzo took note of both issues, adding transportation is being looked at as part of the local LHIN’s integrated health service delivery system and how services are delivered at the local, district, and regional levels.
Coun. Paul Ryan, who is chair of the Northwestern Health Unit’s board of health, said the health unit “has a lot of experience in public health and we’re more than willing to meet with the board or your staff and share our experience with you as we move closer to public health in the LHIN.”
Coun. Perry, who also chairs the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board, added that he and other councillors all are involved in doctor recruitment, public health, EMS delivery, and other areas that could provide input to the LHIN–and are available to help.
“How can we make it better?” he offered.
The North West LHIN has been working on its Health Services Blueprint, which is a year plan to develop an integrated service delivery model, as well as deliver better health outcomes and improved client experience through decreased duplication of services and minimized gaps in service and shifted care from hospital care to community care, among other objectives.
It also has been working on the provincial Patients First Action Plan for Health Care–which aims to improve access to the right care and connect services, including strengthened engagement with indigenous communities and providers.
The North West LHIN already has been on this path for the past five years and even established sub-regions in the districts of Rainy River, Kenora, and Thunder Bay, the City of Thunder Bay, and the north.
The LHIN also has been trying to meet the recent mandate by Health minister Dr. Eric Hoskins to improve the patient experience, address the root causes of health inequities, and break down the silos between health-care sectors and providers.
Ted Scholten, president and CEO of Riverside Health Care here, noted the North West LHIN leads the province in terms of initiatives and is looked to as a model by the other ones in the province.
“Because of the scarcity of resources in the north, there is a need for folks to collaborate and co-operate and work together to find solutions,” he noted.
“The north really has proven that they know how to do that, and that has resounded in the Northwest LHIN,” added Scholten.
The North West LHIN is one of 14 regional networks which plan, integrate, and fund local health care across Ontario.