By Stew Slater
Michael Barrett, CEO of the South West Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), estimated the percentage of audience members representing three different health sector stakeholder groups: staff of health service providers, board of directors for those service providers, and members of the public.
“We’ve got a good cross-section here,” he declared.
What he neglected to add, however, was that there was only a handful of representatives from each stakeholder group in that audience — Tuesday, Sept. 11 at the Army, Navy and Air Force Hall in Stratford. Add a few staff and board members from the LHIN, along with two invited speaking guests and a smattering of local media outlets, and the result was a lot of empty chairs.
The public meeting was held as part of the LHIN’s ongoing update of its Integrated Health Service Plan (IHSP) — something that’s required by the provincial government from the organization, which acts as the agency through which Health Ministry funding is allocated to hospitals and other health service providers in an area running from Tobermory to Port Stanley. It was one of nine planned public meetings in advance of the approval of the new 2013-16 IHSP.
“Hopefully, we can get some input and incorporate that input into our board of directors’ decision when they make it in December,” said Barrett, before adding that a survey about the proposed IHSP is also available on the South West LHIN’s website (www. soutwhestlhin.con.ca).
In his address to the meeting, Barrett highlighted the successes of strategies identified in the soon-to-be-outdated 2009-12 IHSP.
The “Home First” model of dealing with outgoing hospital patients who are frail and elderly, he said, has been introduced in various communities after first being rolled out as a pilot project two years ago. “In the past, there has often been too much emphasis placed on sending the person directly into a long-term care setting, without them having the opportunity to talk about moving back home with a series of supports in place. And that’s changing now . . . Home First has been a great success for us,” Barrett commented.
Also over the past three years, the LHIN CEO says great improvements have been achieved in the amount of time patients must wait for MRIs and cancer surgeries.
“Three years ago, out of 14 LHINs (in Ontario), for cancer surgery wait times, we were 14th. And not by a little bit,” he related. Now, the average wait time has decreased significantly, “and a lot of it has to do with how the patient flows through the hospital, and how different departments work together.”
To truly give an idea of how the identified directions in the three-year IHSP can affect healthcare, however, Barrett invited two professionals from Perth County to speak about their experiences with changing approaches to care.
Dr. Rob Annis, Primary Care Lead for the LHIN but also an on-the-ground family physician (and former chief of medical staff) at Listowel General Hospital, related how the ability of physicians and other service providers to work together has been enhanced by the efforts of the LHIN.
“When I started my practice, I remember being repeatedly frustrated,” Annis said, citing examples like patients’ records not being available to different departments in the hospital, and physicians’ time being taken up with so much administrative work — or even pastoral care, for which they’re not trained — that they couldn’t make time for patients.
“Sometimes you’d see a patient back in your office, and they hadn’t gotten a test done that you had wanted done. And you found out they didn’t receive the information they needed . . . It was, for years, frustrating. And it wasn’t how I wanted to practice medicine.”
Efforts undertaken as a result of the LHIN’s 2009-12 IHSP, Annis said, definitely helped ease that frustration. “Things work a lot better now,” he said. “And a lot of those changes didn’t really cost any money. It was basically just better management.”
Annis looked out over the dozens of empty seats and suggested it was a positive thing: “Maybe it means there’s no hot-button issue.”
But a trio of members of the public in attendance, representing the grassroots Community Action Group (CAG) fighting to ensure continued 24-hour Emer-gency coverage at St. Marys Memorial Hospital, didn’t agree about the lack of hot-button issues. After seeing a newspaper advertisement about the LHIN’s IHSP public meetings, they came to the ANAF Hall to hear more, and also to make sure Barrett and other LHIN representatives knew about the CAG’s opposition to any Emergency Department changes.
A planning document at the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance, approved by the LHIN as part of the Alliance’s funding agreement, calls for a decrease in Emergency coverage in St. Marys. But it has been put on hold pending a provincial government moratorium on Emergency changes.
“We’ve got to get people more interested in their hospitals — especially young people, because there will come a time when they’ll need them,” said Jenny Henderson, one CAG members in attendance. She ad-ded she was dismayed by the poor turn-out at the meeting.