The Kemptville District Hospital (KDH) is one of 70 local health organizations who have been given the green light to submit a full Ontario Health Team (OHT) application to the provincial government. According to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Ontario’s health care system is complex, and patients, families, caregivers, and providers find it confusing, inconvenient, and challenging to navigate. Patients often experience fragmented care as they transition from one provider to the next, and they wait too long for care, having to repeat their health history and fill out duplicate forms when transitioning between different levels of service. Many health care organizations operate beyond their capacity, due to ever increasing healthcare demands, and some are operating below capacity. Overall, although many health organizations provide excellent care, the whole system is not coordinated and not providing the best value for healthcare dollars.
To try and improve Ontario’s healthcare system, the government developed the OHT project and the People’s Healthcare Act passed in 2019. OHTs bring together primary care, hospitals, public health, and community and social services under one umbrella to help people receive the right care, in the right place, at the right time. Core to the OHT mandate is strengthening relationships with patients, families, and caregivers, and supporting providers to work better together. There are currently 42 approved OHTs in Ontario that will cover 86% of Ontario at maturity.
In 2019, healthcare providers across the province were asked to submit applications to create OHTs in their area. KDH and other local healthcare organizations came together to create the North Rideau Health Alliance OHT, with the focus on improving mental health and addictions services for children and youth, and home and community care for older adults managing complex illnesses. Unfortunately, their application was not accepted by the provincial government, as their geographical footprint was too small. They then found the Three Rivers OHT, which stretched from the Queensway Carleton Hospital to Arnprior, which had similar target populations, similar values, and a similar vision. “We said, look, let’s partner to form a bigger OHT, because that is what ailed both of our OHTs, we were too small,” says KDH CEO, Frank Vassalo.
The two groups merged to form the Four Rivers OHT, and submitted an update report to the ministry which resulted in them being asked to submit a formal application, due March 31. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re up to the challenge,” Frank says. “We think it’s going to be a good thing for the people in our communities.”
Frank believes that OHTs have the capacity to fundamentally change the healthcare system in Ontario. With everyone at the table, including patients and families, as well as healthcare providers at all levels of care, it will help them create a system that better serves the entire population. “I think the potential for us to really re-imagine and design a more effective healthcare system is in our grasp, and we have to seize the day and continue to work with our providers, including patients and family members, to really tackle this challenge and get something that really works.”
The Four Rivers OHT covers a vast geography, heading west from Woodroffe Avenue in Ottawa into the Arnprior region, North Grenville, Carleton Place, and Almonte. It will now work on preparing a formal application to the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care. Once accepted, the Ontario government will conduct an in-person assessment to determine if the Four Rivers is fully ready to become an Ontario Health Team. The process will likely take a few months.
“We’re looking at this opportunity almost like with a blank piece of paper,” Frank says. “There’s very few givens. Everything is up for observation and study, and improvement and re-imagination. I look forward to re-imagining what a healthcare system would be.”