Thursday, Oct. 10 – GUELPH – In what looked like a routine event, the onscreen “submit” button was clicked. However, it was not routine in the least because what was being submitted was the full application for the creation of the Guelph and Area Ontario Health Team (OHT). The click was the end result of months of planning, community engagement and relationship building. The creation of OHTs represents a massive overhaul of how healthcare will be delivered in Ontario – and Guelph and Area is poised to be at the forefront.
“This represents a fundamental shift in how patients will experience our healthcare system,” explains Dr. Will Ruddock, family physician and member of the Guelph Family Health Team. He was deeply involved in providing a physician’s perspective during the application development. “People will no longer be a ‘hospital patient’ or ‘home-care’ patient. Instead, the individual will be a patient of the OHT who at times may receive hospital care or home-care or other kinds of care. The OHT will make sure the patient remains at the centre and is supported in a coordinated manner at all times.”
It will be a welcome change from what often is a fragmented healthcare system says community member Barb McPhee. As someone who has firsthand experience of the healthcare system, she’s been closely involved in adding a patient’s perspective to much of the work. “It can be a real challenge needing healthcare services from a variety of providers,” she explains. “There can be communication breakdowns, long waits and the frustrating experience of having to repeat your health story over and over again.”
Her experiences aren’t unique, says Gwen Kostal of the Guelph and Family Health Team. She supported the numerous community engagement sessions that were held to shape the application. At these sessions, community members shared their stories about how hard it can be to get the healthcare services one or a loved one requires especially when the needs are complex. “One participant shared her difficult story of trying to access services for her husband who was dying of cancer. She described communication failures, being unable to access needed services and more,” explains Gwen. “This participant took us to the moment where ‘More than once I stood on the curb outside of the hospital or doctors’ offices with my husband in a wheelchair and wondered what to do next.’” The Guelph and Area Ontario Health Team is being designed to prevent patients and caregivers from ever having this type of experience. The full application will be reviewed by the Ministry of Health with a decision expected before the end of the year. The application could be given the green light or sent back for further work. Regardless of the Ministry’s decision, Guelph and Area partners will continue to work towards becoming a fully mature OHT. Ross Kirkonnell, Executive Director of the Guelph Family Health Team has been on the OHT core team from day one. He has been witness to the progress already made. “It’s clear we are able to achieve much more together than we could separately,” Ross says. “Fortunately, in the Guelph area we are building on what we already do well which is working together to meet the needs of our patients, their families and the community.”