By Jenn Watt
Carolyn Plummer wants to take the confusion out of the local health-care system.
As CEO of Haliburton Highlands Health Services, she knows it can be difficult for people to navigate the web of services available locally and in the wider region.
For years, discussion has centred on educating the public about who does what and where, but Plummer says it makes more sense to tell people to call one number to find the information they need.
“Not everybody is necessarily always aware of who to call for what service,” says Plummer. They might wonder, for example: “Where do I call to get allergy shots or allergy testing?” she says, “My mom needs help washing her hair [who helps with that?]”
HHHS was chosen as a “rural health hub” by the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care, one of five in Ontario. The pilot project allowed the corporation to consult with service providers and the community to discern gaps and opportunities for better health care.
One of the messages they heard was that people might call one service provider asking for help and be directed to someone else. But when they called that number, they were directed elsewhere.
“The poor person’s getting ping-ponged everywhere, right?” says Plummer. “We don’t want people to feel like they’re ping-ponged.”
To address the issue, the intention is to create a “no wrong door” model. “Even though [the person] may not have called the right place that offers the service they need, the person they’re speaking to should be able to help them get to exactly where they need to go,” she says.
Work this year will include building supports for the people answering the phones, giving them the information needed to address calls and emails that come through.
This is especially helpful for patients with complex needs and their families, who might have to track down answers to many health-related questions all at once.
“Knowing a service is available doesn’t necessarily mean you understand how that service works,” Plummer points out.
“Instead of saying call us for this, call these people for that, if you have a question about something, call us and we will help you.”
Planning for strong health services
This year the “refreshed” strategic plan will be coming out, which guides the organization over the next two to three years.
“It’s going to help us know exactly where we need to focus our immediate energies,” Plummer says.
Once that plan is in place, an operating plan will be created by senior management. Additionally, the CEO is hopeful 2018 will include the making of a master plan.
It will look at current services and facilities and compare those to projected needs, using census data.
“For example, we have an aging population and that’s going to continue to be the case. We know the population here is growing. From that information, we can look at what some of the health needs are going to be, what the service needs are going to be over the longer term. … What do we need to be doing with our services and our facilities to make sure we’re ready to respond to and meet those needs over the longer term?” she said.
If facility improvements are necessary to fulfill those needs, the master plan will identify that.
Work will also continue in 2018 on improving facilities, in particular in making them more energy efficient.
Small towns across the province have a similar problem: not enough doctors are available to adequately serve the population. The Haliburton Highlands is no different.
Although there is a solid roster with the Family Health Team and working at both health-care sites in Minden and Haliburton including the long-term care units and the emergency department, more are needed.
HHHS has begun working with Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay on long-term planning for coverage.
The hope is to formalize a model that is already common practice, especially at the Minden emergency department, where several doctors work both in Minden and in larger centres.
“It is a nice sort of model for a physician if they’re interested to have a bit of a mix in their practice, if they’re going to cover emerg. of both rural and urban settings,” says Plummer, explaining that while rural emergency departments can be slower, there is typically only one physician on at a time – a different challenge entirely.
HHHS is also in the midst of recruiting for the chief nursing executive/VP clinical services position. The job entails oversight of all hospital services including emergency departments, in-patient, long-term care, physiotherapy, telemedicine as well as quality and patient safety.
Youth Hub application
To address concerns in the community around services for youth with a particular emphasis on youth mental health, HHHS has partnered with Point in Time Centre for Children Youth and Parents on funding proposals for a youth hub.
“One of the things we really want to focus on this year … is how we can help support youth, particularly youth mental health,” says Plummer.
Marg Cox, executive director of Point in Time, says the model they’ve created is the result of consultations with young people in the community.
“The youth are telling us over and over again that they don’t feel like they belong. And that there’s no place they can go that they feel safe and that they can have fun together,” Cox says. “And that all there is for them to do is go have bush parties and … that’s not healthy either.”
Three funding proposals have been submitted and as of press time, the funding announcements were still to come.
However, Plummer says no matter the outcome of the grant proposals, the intention is to go ahead with the project.
“Even if we don’t get funding we’re still going to try and find a way to make it happen,” she says.
There are several elements to consider, including finding the right space. It is likely that the hub will be somewhere in Haliburton village on a separate property from the schools.
Stephanie MacLaren, VP community programs with HHHS, says the intention is to create a safe space that young people can use for recreation, but to also have access to services including mental health services, employment services and housing along with others.
As far as the recreational opportunities, Cox and MacLaren say some possibilities include art, music, a basketball hoop outside, foosball table, couches to hang out on and some structured events such as movie night.
While there’s a good selection of organized sports for young people in the area, there is less for those who either aren’t interested in athletics or can’t afford it.
“This is certainly filling that gap for sure,” says MacLaren.
During a recent trip to Australia, Cox took time out of her vacation to visit some of the “headspace” centres run by the National Youth Mental Health Foundation in that country. According to the headspace website, the centres – which are designed in collaboration with young people – offer health services and “60 per cent of clients show significant improvement.”
Cox described seeing kitchens in the centres with signs advertising free food. One of them had laundry and showers. There was open space for socializing, Wi-Fi and public computers.
“It’s not the same as the drop-in model we’re thinking,” Cox says.
“The youth would say their biggest emphasis is, yes, they would like to be able to access some services, but they also really want to have a safe space.”
MacLaren says in speaking to young people about the hub, she was uplifted by their response.
“It was about having hope for their future and learning from people in the community, like the musicians, like the artists and people at the college,” she says.
One idea was for local artists to assist students in putting together a portfolio of work for college or job applications.
Whether funding comes in or not, Cox says the community will be needed to make the youth hub a reality.
“We’ll probably be asking the community to pitch in … by volunteering, but also we’re really hoping people will be prepared to step up and help make this happen financially as well,” she says.