By Angela Long
Published Aug. 11 2016
On Sunday Aug. 7 Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that the Haliburton Highlands Health Services has been chosen as one of five sites for a rural health hub pilot project.
The five hubs which also include Espanola Dryden Manitouwadge and Blind River will receive $2.5 million in funding over three years.
“Our government is working to ensure access to high-quality health care in every corner of Ontario” Wynne stated in a news release.
The aim of the project is to “provide care that is integrated from end to end” – meaning that every aspect of health care beginning with public health and ending with palliative care will be provided in one area.
In an email to the Times HHHS president Carolyn Plummer describes a rural health hub as “a way of organizing health-related services together in a rural community to help make sure people have easy access to the care and service they need and to provide that care in a co-ordinated and seamless way.”
The project is part of the government’s bigger plan to “build a better Ontario.”
Their Patients First: Action Plan for Health Care strives to create a “health-care system that is sustainable for generations to come” states the Office of the Premier.
The rural health hub project recognizes the shortcomings of health services provided in smaller communities suggesting that a better Ontario includes rural Ontario.
Nearly a quarter of Ontario’s population is made up of small communities with fewer than 30000 residents.
A Rural Health Hub Advisory Committee spearheaded by the Ontario Hospital Association and the Ontario Medical Association created a framework to set up the hubs.
The 2015 Rural Health Hubs Framework for Ontario lists the characteristics of a rural community including low population density long travel times to services unavailable locally high density of elderly or other distinct populations difficulty in finding and retaining health care professionals.
Despite these challenges the committee identified communities that have managed to create “sustainable health care systems through innovative local solutions” perfectly poised for a “health system transformation.”
The Haliburton Highlands is one such community. According to Plummer the HHHS has “been on the journey” of becoming a hub for several years and taken many steps to initiate their transformation.
“Given our geographic location the size of our region our population as well as the successes we’ve had with integration to date” Plummer says “we are ideally positioned to become a rural health hub.”
Nevertheless this is still a “big step” for HHHS says Plummer.
“This will help us take things to the next level; we are proud and excited to be helping to lead the way in shaping rural health care in Ontario.”
The next level will become clearer as funding and community needs are assessed.
“One of the guiding principles of rural health hubs is that they are unique to their communities – designed by and for the communities they serve” says Plummer.