New Guelph and Area Ontario Health Team includes services in Erin, Guelph-Eramosa, Puslinch

GUELPH – The Guelph and Area Ontario Health Team (GAOHT), which includes health care providers in Guelph-Eramosa, Erin and Puslinch, is one of the first of 24 to be approved across the province.

Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott announced the approval at the Guelph-Wellington Paramedic Service’s headquarters on Nov. 29.

The focus of the newly-formed health team is integrated patient care, including 24/7 navigation and care coordination services for patients and families in an effort to prevent “hallway medicine” in hospitals.

Ontario Health was announced in February as a new health care delivery system to replace Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs).

Elliott described the current health system as “disconnected and fractured.”

“We also know right now that our health care system is facing significant pressures and across Ontario, their are patients are getting lost,” she said.

“They’re falling through the cracks, waiting too long to receive the health care services that they need.”

Elliott said the government is committed to building “a sustainable and connected public health care system focused on the needs of patients and on ending hallway health care.”

Core partners in the Guelph and Area Ontario Health Team include:

– the Canadian Mental Health Association;

– Hospice Wellington;

– East Wellington Family Health Team;

– Sanguen Health Centre;

– eHealth Centre of Excellence;

– St. Joseph’s Health Centre Guelph;

– Guelph Community Health Centre;

– Stonehenge Therapeutic Community;

– Guelph Family Health Team;

– The Elliott Community;

– Guelph General Hospital; and

– Traverse Independence.

Joining the GAOHT made statistical sense for East Wellington Family Health Team (EWFHT), which  provides clinics in both Erin and Rockwood, according to executive director Kim Bell.

“First and foremost, we looked at our patients access patterns. So we pulled data straight from our electronic medical record system that looked at information about the last few years of acute care access, so when people go to hospital, where do they typically go?” Bell said.

“And it showed that the majority of our patients go west towards the Guelph area,” Bell told the Advertiser.

“So we did look at other areas … in terms of what makes the most sense for our patients. And certainly, Guelph has a very strong team and again, at the end of the day, it’s our patients, that’s where they choose to get their care.”

A primary focus for the health team’s first year is palliative care and mental health and addictions, which Elliott said were identified as “prevalent issues.”

“That is why these local Ontario Health Teams are so important to be able to identify what’s important in the communities; it will be different issues for different local … teams. Those are the issues that have been identified as being significant here,” said Elliott.

Bell said palliative care and mental health and addictions were identified as key issues by both the core organizations within the GAOHT and other health care providers across the province.

The Guelph-area team is not yet operational and it remains unclear how issues will be prioritized.

Bell said the team envisions greater access to resources for patients.

“We hear a lot that people need a system navigator or they need an advocate. And we want to build a system where they don’t need either of those things because that care and those services come to them,” said Bell.

“But what we do envision is that typically, when somebody goes to (an emergency room) with a mental health crisis, it’s because it might be … 11 o’clock on a Friday night; their doctor’s office is closed, they aren’t connected with a mental health provider, they may call one of the 24/7 lines, but again, how far off in terms of time sensitivity is the care and support that they need? It’s not readily available.”

She added, “So what we envision is that more of that care is readily available.”

Elliott said it will take several years before all of the teams are implemented across the province. Some areas have not yet applied.

“Some groups are waiting to see how the first few are doing and to understand what the secret for success is, I guess, but it is going to take a while,” she said. “And then it’s going to take time once the individual teams have been identified, to make sure that you get connected with the home and community care pieces of the LHINs as they are phased out.”

Ontario Health Teams that have been announced are expected to be operational in the next several months.

“We want to get the teams going. They’re anxious to get moving,” said Elliott.

Areas that already have teams approved include Hamilton, North York,  Mississauga, Southlake, Durham and Burlington.