By Jenn Watt
Oct. 25 2016
Stephanie MacLaren’s office at Community Support Services is decorated with modern art and some more sentimental pieces. Framed drawings of flowers happy people and little green houses made with what looks like highlighter markers dot the room.
She explains they’re drawings done by co-workers.
MacLaren’s been working at CSS since last December and she had been tardy in decorating her office. One day when she was out her co-workers took it upon themselves to gussy up the place with their own drawings.
They were endearing and welcoming; so she framed them.
MacLaren is now the director of CSS after first serving as hospice palliative care manager from December to April and then interim director from then until September.
Now fully rooted in the office beside Haliburton Highlands Health Services commonly referred to as “the little green house” she’s ready to move the organization forward embracing the increased integration required by the health sector in Ontario.
Integration became a bad word for some in Haliburton several years back when the Central East Local Health Integration Network mandated that service organizations come together.
Community Care Haliburton County was one of the organizations that folded into the grouping under the governance of Haliburton Highlands Health Services.
MacLaren says she’s seen several integrations over her time in the sector and there are always difficulties along the way but by bringing services together people can be better served in their health-care needs.
“The community is just really going to benefit from the proximity and relationships created by these programs” she says.
MacLaren started in the health sector in 2001 when she began working at Toronto East General in the diabetes program. Her work was focusing on social determinants of health and how they impact managing the disease. From there she became regional director of the Toronto Central LHIN Diabetes Regional Coordination Centre.
“They were trying to create centralized standardized diabetes programs for the LHIN regions” she says. “It was a really exciting time.”
She worked towards making the system easier to navigate for users who had no standard experience with the health-care system.
She became executive director of the Central East Toronto Family Health Team from there before moving on to the Prince Edward County Family Health Team where she also served as executive director. While there she joined the board of the Community Care for Seniors Prince Edward County.
“At that point I discovered this untapped potential that is Community Support Services” she says. She was also asked to step in when the rural residential hospice had a governance crisis. Without talking about the specifics MacLaren says her role was to bring the organization back together: a process she found rewarding.
In the meantime a long-distance relationship had MacLaren looking for ways to move to the Haliburton Highlands. Then the hospice palliative care manager position came up and the director position after that.
MacLaren says she sees incredible potential in the tight network of programs HHHS provides and the staff behind them.
“To see them all work together and see the excitement in the team when a co-worker has a contribution to make to client care you wouldn’t have thought of” she says. “They [staff members] just spark off each other and support each other.”
Under the CSS umbrella is a host of programs all improving the social and physical well being of Highland residents. Hospice adult day program GAIN (geriatric assessment and intervention network) transportation services meals on wheels diner’s club foot care program – the list of services is extensive.
Creating a strong network of service providers (some of which are outside the HHHS organization) is key to building a stronger support system in the community MacLaren says and she has homed in on this as one of her goals.
“We’re looking at formalizing processes to support co-ordinated care planning for our most complex clients. These are clients that traditionally have had multiple health service providers” she says. By bringing together the service providers plans can be created to better serve community members.
With most of CSS’s programs the goal is to keep people out of hospital as much as possible.
People “heal better they stay well longer they’re more active and engaged in their lives and their community when they have the opportunity – when it’s possible – to be at home” she says.
Having worked in cities and rural environments MacLaren says she sees differences in service delivery and is most impressed by the enhanced experience rural residents receive by virtue of the community’s size.
“Relationships are to health care what location is to real estate” she says. “They make or break good client care.”
She gives the example of finding hospice care in the city versus the country. In the city you might need to navigate several institutions placing phone calls and getting referrals. In Haliburton: “pick up the phone and call Rachel” she laughs.
“It’s just people know who to call. We can leverage that.”