Health education the focus for the next four years: NWHU

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kit Young-Hoon said the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) will advance priorities on mental health promotion, wellness and addictions for the next four years.

In the first year of their strategic plan, NWHU’s objective is to produce mental health and wellness population health reports, complete a report and inventory of local services for child and youth mental health, develop a plan of action based on the findings, and support the development and implementation of harm reduction programming.

By the second year to the fourth year of the plan, NWHU will have implemented a renewed mental health and wellness strategy, and will have developed and implemented programs based on the reports.

“There’s a variety of different programming that improves on the mental health of children and youth. We wanted to do a full review of that programming, look for gaps and urgent needs and assess what would be appropriate additional interventions or enhancements,” said Young Hoon at the Rainy River District Municipal Association annual general meeting on January 14, 2023.

Dr. Kit Young-Hoon outlined the strategic plan for the Northwestern Health Unit through to 2027

As part of their strategic direction for programs and services, NWHU will focus on collaborations and relationships with community partners. This will continue to contribute to population health and an equity lens by providing detailed reports and through partnerships with Indigenous public health systems and services.

“I do want to focus on population health education and providing appropriate reports that exceeds our population as well as the agency partners so that I share that information appropriately. So we’re all working on accurate information on the mental health of the population,” Young Hoon said.

She added that they have learned through the pandemic that ongoing communication is key, both internally and externally. Focusing on effective communication that also ensures that the general population and partnering agencies are aware of public health issues so that the needs of the community can be met.

“In addition [there will be a] client equity lens to all our population reports, in fact, if you do look at things some of these factors are determined by poverty, income, education levels, and more.”

Across all four years of the strategic plan, NWHU aims to participate on committees and coalitions about Indigenous public health systems, as appropriate. “It is important to work closely with our Indigenous partners and agencies to ensure a strong public health system,” said Young Hoon.

The final strategy focuses on agency development. NWHU wants to develop creative and innovative approaches to support staff and strengthen agency resiliency, responsiveness and capacity.

Young Hoon said that the pressure of human resource challenges, not unlike many other organizations, forced them to create a new strategy to prepare for recruitment, employee turnover, and potential knowledge-gaps.

“Our employees needed to be resilient. And they’ve proven over the last few years how resilient they are,” Young Hoon said, adding that they also need to ensure that the pressures and demands on their employees are adequate.

“In order to do that, we wanted to add in some staff competencies, training and development, so that they were able to navigate their way through.”

In 2022, NWHU hired a consultant to conduct an employee wellness survey that would assist in the development of the organization’s human resources strategy. Since then, NWHU has restarted their nature wellness committee with the task of ensuring that the staff feel safe and secure at work.

The strategic priorities were identified after a period of data collection between February to April in 2022. Young Hoon said that to their surprise, their online survey received responses from over 1,100 people from all across different stakeholder groups.

“That was actually a quite overwhelming response. So it was really encouraging to see that the public as well as our stakeholders, our partners, our board, and our staff were all really excited about putting that new strategic planning forward,” she said.

None of key findings discovered through the focus groups and surveys were a surprise, said Young Hoon, who added that NWHU had been talking about population health already.

Key performance indicators will be included in a monitoring and evaluation framework to be developed by the end of this year.

“This plan will be reported on regularly to ensure NWHU’s work is contributing to the stated objectives. We thank everyone who provided input into the plan – you have played a part in making our region a healthier place to live.”