Public’s ownership of health care system highlighted through community engagement

Public’s ownership of health care system highlighted through community engagement

Community engagement strategies such as focus groups, “town hall” meetings, workshop sessions, and surveys are vehicles for consumers to take ownership of the health care system, says Donnamarie Dunk, Senior Director of Planning, Integration and Community Engagement of Waterloo Wellington LHIN.

The varied community engagement strategies undertaken by the province’s 14 LHINs also represent a new orientation for planning direction, and a significant perspective shift.

“I personally believe we are headed in the right direction,” says Dunk. “We’re going to communities and providers instead of sitting in ivory towers and planning from there. When you involve everyone that makes us better educated about needs and the actions we need to take.”

The staff and board at the Waterloo-Wellington LHIN (also known as WWLHIN) have used multiple community engagement methods to gather feedback and planning priorities to help shape the Integrated Health Services Plan (IHSP), expected to be presented to George Smitherman, Minister of Health, by October 31st.

Its most recent community engagement strategies have centred around encouraging community feedback on the draft version of the plan.

One criticism the WWLHIN responded to was a request from various communities that the IHSP be presented in plain language.

On Sept. 25th, the LHIN hosted a symposium at Bingeman’s Hall in Kitchener, inviting the public and providers. 326 people attended.

The LHIN followed up this symposium with a final round of six community meetings throughout early part of October, meeting in rural and urban areas.

“We introduced our vision, mission, values and priorities,” says Dunk. “We re-iterated what we had done.”

Participants at those meetings re-examined the fourteen priorities that were a product of the WWLHIN’s initial community engagement efforts throughout the spring and summer of 2006.

During spring/summer the WWLHIN also held focus groups with gay and lesbian organizations and with immigrant communities. Surveys done with patients, caregivers and providers constituted another strategy. Finally, the LHIN spoke frequently with pre-established networks – such as the Mental Health Network – in an effort to get a “system perspective,” says Dunk.

The WWLHIN invited various speakers to meetings, a primary example being Dr. Vaughn Glover, a Toronto-based dentist and advocate for a “person-centred” health care system.

His perspective, says Dunk, is that the health care system has actually been a “system-based system.”

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All of these efforts to meet with the community don’t end with the drafting of the IHSP, says Dunk.

The WWLHIN will continue to meet with the networks to get planning and implementation input, says Dunk, inviting evaluation, and ultimately, ownership of a reformed system.