Waterloo Wellington LHIN builds community engagement capacity

The Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) continues to build its capacity for community engagement with the recent launch of eight new health interest groups.

From the get-go, community engagement has been critical for both the planning and implementation of LHIN activities, according to CEO Sandra Hanmer.

“Community engagement is something that’s of ongoing importance and relevance to the work we’re doing at the Waterloo Wellington LHIN,” says Hanmer.

“We’re really looking at the community engagement component to tell us the other side of the story. We can look at facts and figures, but we want to know the public side of the story and what is it that really needs to be addressed.

“(Community engagement) gives us a reality check in making sure the suggestions and changes we’re putting in place really do resonate with everyone and are moving our agenda forward.”

Hanmer notes it was in discussion with representatives of the regions’ rural communities that the LHIN became aware of a need to improve transportation services to medical facilities.

“By talking about that transportation issue we were able to confirm with the public that transportation was indeed a problem in accessing medical services in our rural areas,” says Hanmer.

Various groups planning transportation services in the area weren’t aware that a number of other small communities were dealing with similar transportation challenges so the LHIN was able to bring them together. The groups have now formed a network and are sharing ideas and concepts to address the issue.

Hanmer says the community engagement process at the Waterloo Wellington LHIN has evolved over time as the LHIN has become established and built relationships with health service providers in the community.

One of its most successful strategies has been hosting and attending various functions throughout the LHIN area, she says.

“It’s a time consuming activity but it has probably been most fruitful in giving us concrete information as well as anecdotal information.”

The Community of Interest groups are expected to be a successful community engagement approach as well. The groups, of which there are now 17, are to be comprised of interested individuals and health-care professionals.

Some of the groups are to focus on further achieving and implementing the goals and objectives outlined in the Integrated Health Services Plan. These groups are specific to various health interests, including primary care, chronic disease management and prevention, and mental health and addictions.

Population-based councils, including the Services for Seniors Council, Rural Health Council, and Aboriginal Health Council, are to offer a more general perspective on health issues. Hanmer says while community-members are welcome to participate in both  types of groups, some may feel more comfortable with the latter.

“Those (latter) groups are the ones from which we will get many more stories from the general public and hear about experiences individuals have had.

“(Those stories) could help inform what our future plans might be. They could also help identify gaps that have not come to light as well as solutions that we can move towards.”

The LHIN has also initiated bi-yearly Champions of Change symposiums to showcase the innovative strategies of service providers as well as gather input from the general public on its direction.

The symposiums are to be held in April and September of each year. This year’s theme is Excellence through Collaboration and Innovation.

Another key element in the LHIN’s community engagement strategy is its website, according to Hanmer. Along with gathering information on LHIN activities, community members will be invited to share their stories and ask questions on the site.

Hanmer says the public and provider communities have responded well to the LHIN’s community engagement activities to date.

However, she points out that there is much more to be done.

“We can always build that capacity for community engagement,” she says.

The Waterloo Wellington LHIN is a not-for-profit agency responsible for planning, co-ordinating, integrating and funding health care providers.