By Mike Baker
Haliburton Highlands Health Services has adopted a new one-year strategic plan as the organization prepares for life after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plan includes four priority areas – advancing community partnerships, investing in the hospital’s people, building the organization’s capacity to thrive, and transforming the local health service experience.
Carolyn Plummer, HHHS president and CEO, informed those who attended the hospital’s virtual AGM last Thursday, June 24 that, over the past 12 months, the health care provider has partnered with several organizations across the region to implement or advance a wealth of community programs. Chief amongst those was the creation of the COVID-19 Assessment Centre, which opened in April 2020. The Assessment Centre, which is still in operation today, was a joint initiative led by HHHS, the County of Haliburton, the Haliburton Family Medical Centre and the Haliburton Highlands Family Health Team.
Looking to the future, the organization will continue to work with the Peterborough Regional Health Centre and other health care partners to participate in a “hub and spoke” model for infection prevention and control support for long-term care homes.
Plummer mentioned HHHS has recruited more than 100 new members of staff over the past fiscal year – April 2020 to April 2021.
HHHS’ strategic plan was set to expire this year. Given all that has been done organizationally over the past 16 months to withstand and respond to the pandemic, Plummer thought it would be prudent to continue with that work for at least another year.
“Looking ahead, the board is very aware that this uncertainty and operational pressures created by the pandemic may extend into 2022 and 2023, and the plan may possibly need to be extended again until a more comprehensive process can occur,” Plummer said. “As we look forward to the future… we’re still faced with an incredible amount of uncertainty about what lies ahead, and what changes we can expect. There are still many unknowns, still mountains to climb and races to run.”
Plummer said there were “several exciting initiatives” on the horizon for HHHS over the next year.
“We will be improving our information system implementation, continuing our Ontario Health Team journey with other health service providers in the county, and, of course, supporting our team and the community through the pandemic recovery,” Plummer said. “The year is already off to a successful start… with the implementation of a virtual primary care clinic using our telemedicine suite to support residents of Haliburton County who do not have a local primary care provider.”
HHHS is also working towards the implementation of a new clinical information software called Epic. The program will improve the organization’s ability to seamlessly access and transfer digital medical records, and will be going live in December.
Some of the highlights of the new system include: single digit records for each patient across seven participating hospitals; patient access to health information through a patient portal called MyChart; timely access to information such as test results and other medical information; and improvements to patient safety.
Although the hospital did see a reduction in visits to the emergency department over the past year – a common theme amongst most hospitals in the province – Plummer says staff were still “very busy,” with around 18,000 visits and 4,000 patients seen over the past 12 months.
In diagnostic imaging, the hospital completed over 10,000 tests, including x-rays, ultrasounds, electrocardiography tests and bone density tests.
Another positive statistic – Plummer noted that around 80 per cent of the hospital’s staff were now fully vaccinated.
“Perseverance, tenacity, courage and resilience. These powerful words reflect our team over the past year,” Plummer said.
Dealing with the constant stress and pressure brought on by the pandemic has taken its toll on hospital staff, Plummer noted. The entire team, she says, has stepped up to the plate and gone above and beyond in ensuring visitors to the hospital were safely and properly cared for, no matter the circumstance.
“Our team has run many short races and continues to do so. They have stayed the course, providing excellent care and service despite all of the challenges,” Plummer said. “We’re all looking forward to that day when the pandemic ends, however also know that our team is fatigued. The pandemic has taken its toll on their mental and physical wellbeing, and the descent from that peak holds its own challenges.”
She added, “Words cannot express my gratitude, nor my pride in the incredible force that is our team at HHHS.”
Thomas Turnbull, of Grant Thornton LLP, presented the board with HHHS’ audited financial statements for the 2020/21 year at last week’s AGM.
He noted the hospital was in a good place financially, running a deficit of just over $17,000 despite all the challenges brought on by the pandemic.
Over the past year, the organization received around $20 million in funding from the Ontario government – up from around $13 million the prior year. Turnbull noted an increase of this nature was fairly common amongst most services the size of HHHS in Ontario.
Lisa Tompkins, executive director of the Haliburton Highlands Health Services Foundation, said that, in spite of a difficult fundraising year with the pandemic, the organization was still able to transfer just over $464,000 to our local hospitals to support much-needed programming and equipment purchases that aren’t covered by the province.
That money was used to purchase a new portage digital x-ray, an emergency room stretcher, and covered numerous COVID-19 related capacity upgrades, such as new beds, a ceiling lift, hand-washing stations and an automatic medication dispensing unit. The money also supported community programs such as the Senior’s Gift-a-Meal program, Medically-required Transportation program, and technology including smart phones and tablets to improve connectivity for mental health programs, and new iPads for long-term care residents, so they could keep connected with family and friends.
The end is near
Dr. Steve Ferracuti, interim co-chief of staff at HHHS, said that, fortunately, over the past 12 months COVID-19 did not hit our community as badly as many feared it would. He noted that, since the onset of the pandemic last March, there had been only three COVID-19 positive patients admitted to the Haliburton and Minden hospitals, while just 23 emergency patients were confirmed as being COVID positive.
Plummer added that there were no cases of COVID-19 among long-term care residents at either Highland Wood or Hyland Crest, which are both operated by the local health service. Too, she noted that no patients acquired COVID-19 while on site at either the Haliburton or Minden hospitals.
Given the encouraging signs province-wide right now, with record lows in new daily case counts, and thousands of people being vaccinated every day, Ferracuti expressed his hope that the end is near.
“We hope that the pandemic is behind us. We do know that we cannot completely let our guard down. For most of the world’s population, this is not over, and we have not been unaffected,” Ferracuti said. “My thanks go out to all of our staff for their tireless work over the past year… It has been a crazy and exhausting year for all of us. We look forward to getting back to some sense of normalcy soon.”