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Helping Sault and area’s frail, elderly patients one priority of new Ontario Health Team

Team composed of multiple agencies; also hopes to provide care outside hospital emergency department
elderly care 2

Sault and Algoma healthcare officials are calling it a big first step in streamlining the delivery of healthcare in the region.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott announced Thursday five submitted plans for Ontario Health Teams (OHTs) have been approved by the provincial government, one of which is the plan for an Algoma Ontario Health Team.

“Ontario Health Teams bring together health care providers to work as one team to improve patient outcomes. Through an Ontario Health Team, patients will experience easier transitions from one provider to another, including, for example, between hospitals and home care providers, with one patient story, one patient record and one care plan. Patients and families will also have access to 24/7 navigation and care coordination services,” an Ontario government news release states.

Over 100 stakeholders viewed an announcement from Sault MPP Ross Romano (held via Zoom teleconferencing) regarding approval of the Algoma Ontario Health Team Thursday.

“The goal of the Algoma Ontario Health Team will be to make improvements in the healthcare system to provide patient-centred care,” said Dr. David Fera, Algoma Ontario Health Team co-chair.

“Our healthcare partners working together will be providing patients with a comprehensive model of care that will involve multiple healthcare providers in a coordinated system. The system will need to ensure that patients have ease of access to appropriate care in a system that is easy for them to navigate without confusion,” Fera said.

The Algoma OHT, Fera told teleconference attendees, will begin its work by focusing on two areas, those being the need to ensure better, coordinated care for frail, elderly patients (a huge need in the Sault and area) and to ensure patients are able to get the care they need in the community without them having to present at the Sault Area Hospital (SAH) emergency department.

“I think it will not be very long before we actually see objective, measurable improvements in the care of our frail elderly...there will be a process in place when elderly patients present with falls (which are especially dangerous, often fatal, in the elderly) that will automatically refer them to a system that will ensure we do everything we can from a healthcare point of view to try to keep them healthy and at home,” Fera said.

“The second goal of trying to allow patients to get the proper care they need outside of the emergency department is one that is the next phase of the first two priorities, and we’ll be needing to produce some work on that before patients are likely to see a benefit. We’re looking at using nurses to provide guidance for patients to help in this system and so that process is going to take a while to develop,” Fera said.

“By ‘a while,’ one would hope we'll see measurable improvements sometime this fall,” Fera said. 

Wendy Hansson, Algoma Ontario Health Team co-chair (and SAH president and CEO), recognized approval for the Algoma OHT is only the beginning, the actual improvement to healthcare to now begin in earnest.

“The implementation plan and the milestones that are required to be achieved (by the Ministry of Health) are quite extensive…by the end of year one we have to have completed a collective shared strategic plan for Algoma Ontario Health Team,” Hansson said, echoing Fera’s remarks regarding care for the frail and elderly.

“Last year, the Ontario government began implementing its plan to build a new, integrated health care system for patients by announcing the first 24 Ontario Health Teams and Ontario Health, a single agency to oversee quality health care delivery, and improve clinical guidance and support for providers. The strong partnerships and integrated care established by Ontario Health Teams and Ontario Health has helped better position the province to respond quickly and effectively to COVID-19,” the government’s Thursday news release states.

“As Ontario Health Teams continue to expand across the province, these partnerships and the lessons learned will also help better prepare the province for a potential second wave of COVID-19 and flu season.”

Both SAH president and CEO Hansson and Sault MPP Romano said the Algoma Ontario Health Team proposal needed a few ‘tweaks’ after it was sent back from the province last year.

“It was primarily an elaboration of our implementation plan,” Hansson said at Thursday’s teleconference.

“(The province said) ‘it’s great what you want to do but tell us a little more detail on how you’re going to achieve this and how you’re setting up, in particular your first year plan,’ so it was providing that additional detailed information.”

In terms of funding, Romano said the provincial government has put forward $25.25 million for all 29 Ontario Health Teams.

The first $9.5 million of that amount, Romano said, is being dedicated specifically to a virtual care model provincewide (for vulnerable populations and individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19).

The balance of the money, up to $375,000 per health team, will go to what Romano called “virtual supports and personnel supports.” 

Those virtual supports will include expansion of digital care, training, education and purchasing of new tools and technology for virtual visits, booking of online appointments and patient portals, along with employees dedicated to developing and delivering the new model of care and more collaborative responses to COVID-19.

“I’m extremely excited that Algoma, Sault Ste. Marie has a health team that is represented in the Ontario Health Teams model...but we have to do more than just make these announcements. We have to make sure the resources are there for our health teams to be able to transition into this new model,” Romano said, referring to the funding aspect of Thursday’s announcement.

Healthcare agencies within the Algoma Ontario Health Team include:

  • Algoma District Medical Group
  • Algoma Family Services
  • Algoma Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic
  • Algoma Public Health
  • Alzheimer Society
  • ARCH
  • Cedarwood Lodge
  • Canadian Mental Health Association
  • Sault Ste. Marie District Social Services Administration Board (SSMDSSAB)
  • FJ Davey Home
  • Group Health Centre
  • Midwives of Algoma
  • North Channel Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic
  • Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM)
  • Ontario Health
  • Sault Area Hospital
  • Superior Family Health Team
  • Superior Family Health Organization 

The five new Ontario Health Teams announced Thursday include:

  • Algoma Ontario Health Team (Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma)
  • Niagara Ontario Health Team in Niagara Region
  • Ottawa East Ontario Health Team in Eastern Ottawa, Eastern Champlain and a certain portion of Ottawa Centre
  • Western Ontario Health Team in London-Middlesex 
  • Western York Region Ontario Health Team in Vaughan, Richmond Hill and King City