Children’s health care network is advancing pediatric care across Ontario

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By Lauren Ettin

Taking care of a child who is sick is one of the most emotionally, and often physically, challenging tasks faced by families and caregivers. And navigating the province’s complex health and social systems can make this even tougher. We’ve heard from families that services can be fragmented, inconsistent and poorly coordinated, and that they can’t always get the care they need in their own communities. All of this can negatively impact a child’s health.

For these reasons, The Hospital for Sick Children, CHEO, and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital established Kids Health Alliance (KHA) in 2017. KHA is a not-for-profit network of health care organizations that collaborate to make tangible improvements in care for children and youth. The network currently includes the three founding specialty pediatric hospitals and five community hospitals in Southern and Eastern Ontario.

Underpinning our network are a number of key guiding principles, including a commitment to patient-centred care that helps ensure children and youth are able to access the best care when they need it and where they need it. We are committed to leveraging the unique expertise of all of our partners, facilitating the spread and scale of what we know works, making evidence-based decisions and planning for sustainability from the start to ensure we are using resources efficiently and effectively.

KHA’s first major initiative is advancing care for children in community hospital emergency departments. We know that 85 per cent of children and youth go to their local emergency department rather than a pediatric hospital when they need urgent care. Through KHA, community hospital partners have participated in pediatric-focused clinical skill building and simulation training, implemented best-practices in pediatric care, monitored and managed pediatric-specific data to inform quality improvements, established collaborative communities of practice, and focused on creating child-friendly approaches to care. We are also working on implementing a common approach to treating children presenting to emergency departments with symptoms of asthma.

Together, we have celebrated the success of our partners. Markham Stouffville Hospital has reported that due to support from KHA for skill building and simulation training, they have identified several quality improvement opportunities – including implementing a best practice for sepsis management. Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital has focused on improving a child’s journey in the hospital and has developed a Pediatric Emergency Department Scorecard to help manage and monitor pediatric cases. KHA has helped Pembroke Regional Hospital bring more pediatric expertise to front line care, and plan ways to make their physical space more child friendly. Our newest partner, Humber River Hospital, has already started seeing the benefits of bringing together various areas of the hospital that provide care to children and youth.

In addition to focusing on quality and safety in emergency departments, KHA community hospital partners will continue to advance their commitment to excellence in pediatric care delivery by extending work into neonatal intensive care and inpatient units.

All of these tangible improvements not only mean better care for children and families, but also represent a more efficient way of delivering healthcare. Through KHA, partners don’t have to work in isolation when it comes to providing the best care possible for children; together, they can access a community of support and expertise, and implement evidence-based improvements more quickly.

As we continue to grow our KHA network with additional community hospitals, we are also actively exploring other partnership opportunities. A child’s health journey may take them through a complex system that includes specialized pediatric hospitals, community hospitals, community pediatricians, mental health services, children’s development and rehabilitation services, and homecare services. We are aiming to expand the KHA network to include organizations across the continuum of care so that care is more consistent and coordinated, of high quality, with seamless transitions between providers.

Sustainable, impactful change in the delivery of pediatric health care requires collective commitment, a relentless focus on quality and safety, and deliberate alignment of priorities focused on efficiencies. We know that by working together to improve access and health outcomes for children and youth across Ontario, our best can be even better.

Lauren Ettin is the Executive Director of the Kids Health Alliance.