Dundas Star News article published January 4, 2017. Article in full pasted below.
Craig Campbell, Dundas Star News
The new year is expected to bring a significant transition in the way health care is provided in Hamilton.
A pilot project by the Hamilton Family Health Team in Dundas is breaking the traditional system of primary care, public health and hospitals — creating a new model of integration for the entire city.
“Dundas is a toe in the water,” said Laurel Cooke, manager of nursing and complex care for the HFHT. “It will look different in every community.”
Since 2005, the Ontario government has been creating Family Health Teams to help people get health care in their community. A Family Health Team is made up of different health care workers such as family doctors and nurses, dieticians, psychiatrists, pharmacists, physiotherapists and more.
The Hamilton Family Health Team is the largest in the province with more than 160 family doctors across the city, and more than 250 other health care workers on the team.
Together, those health care professionals who have joined the HFHT serve more than half the population of the City of Hamilton.
In 2015, 14 family doctors in the community of Dundas joined the Hamilton Family Health Team, bringing the total number of Dundas members to 19. But the group discovered that some of those individual practices were too small to accommodate additional staff — and carry out the team model.
“This is where the hub idea came up,” Cooke told a meeting of the Dundas Community Council in February 2016.
The Hamilton-wide project opened its first patient services hub in medical office space above a downtown Dundas drugstore.
“It’s a nice tight geographic centre to try something like this,” Cooke said, earlier this year. “We look at Dundas to try something different … to provide service in a more co-operative way. We’re dreaming it all up. It’s all new. But the timing is right for this.”
The patient services hub provides a central home for psychiatrists, mental health counsellors, nutritionists and other medical professionals who support 19 Dundas family doctors.
In the more than 10 months since, the Hamilton Family Team has built new partnerships with the city’s hospitals, the City of Hamilton’s public health department and the Social Planning and Research Council.
The team has identified health care concerns and needs, as well as existing services, within the community of Dundas.
An initial process of focus groups, consultations with community leaders and analysis of existing services and population data within Dundas is now leading into a plan to directly consult residents — particularly students at Dundas Valley Secondary School, as youth mental health has been identified as a significant local issue.
“We want to hear from the residents of Dundas,” Cooke said.
A wider public engagement process is expected to begin within the first couple of months of the year.
But the broader goal is learn from the Dundas project about how to improve the health of other Hamilton communities.
While the work of the past year has taken longer than Cooke and the Hamilton Family Health Team originally expected, she hopes to see the impacts spread across the city starting in 2017.
“It will be different in each neighbourhood,” Cooke said, last week. “We’re starting to see health care being better integrated — between primary care, public health and hospitals, increasing efficiency and cutting out duplication.”
Cooke pointed out the Hamilton Family Health Team already has significant resources, and partners, across Hamilton — giving every community the potential to benefit from the pilot project that continues in Dundas.
She said bridging a historic gap between health and social services across Hamilton by realigning resources and delivering services more efficiently and collaboratively is the end goal.
The Dundas pilot project has already identified gaps in supports for youth mental health and seniors’ wellness, but also found other structural needs including limitations of existing public transit to support access to local services.