Increasing access to care with a collaborative Community Health Hub

By Carol Lambie

In 2012, Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care  moved its Outpatient Programs from a central location in downtown Midland to a building located on the property of the local general hospital. This move gave our clients an accessible building close to medical partners, but took away the proximity these services had to Waypoint’s HERO Centre located in downtown Midland that provides housing, education, employment, social and recreational services. In 2015 circumstances led us to start exploring options to bring both outpatient and community programming together in Midland’s downtown area with a vision to improve access to mental health services with other social services, employment opportunities and day to day living supports for clients such as the library, shopping and cultural centre close by.

Recognizing this as an opportunity to develop a “hub” in support of Ontario Community Hubs Action Plan, collaboration with CHIGAMIK Community Health Centre, also looking for a new downtown location, began. Co-locating mental health and primary care services meets the Action Plan’s criteria for responding to local needs with a concrete way families can access a range of services, improving access to a broader range of wrap-around services for better outcomes for people and reducing duplication with more-efficient and sustainable services. With the support of the Town of Midland, a beautiful park like setting across from a proposed new waterfront development was offered, bringing the therapeutic benefits of green space, natural light and walking trails.

Like many communities across the province, the Midland and Penetanguishene area has a growing need for meeting “healthy community” planning guidelines, supporting an aging population as well as individuals and families experiencing complex physical and mental health challenges. Supporting today’s focus on integrated health system planning the “health hub” brings primary care, mental health services and transitional age youth supports together in a single location, a model that puts patients first.

After numerous public meetings to share this vision, the collaborative journey began for a nurturing and safe place supporting CHIGAMIK’s promise statement of every one matters and Waypoint’s strategic priorities to improve access to mental health and addiction services for the people we serve as well as building new partnerships. Meeting healthy community planning guidelines by the Ontario Professional Planners Institute and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, it connects a health centre to downtown retail, commercial and social services  via public transit, a trail system and residential neighbourhoods, ensuring equitable access for people, including those without an automobile.

Discovery and hope

The new health hub also supports Waypoint and CHIGAMIK’s focus on cultural diversity and providing the necessary preventative healthcare for all ages through all types of healing. CHIGAMIK is designed to serve all populations who face barriers to accessing primary healthcare, with a focus on Indigenous peoples and our Francophone population. Waypoint’s Outpatient Services and the HERO rehabilitation staff support people with diverse values, beliefs and feelings who have mental health challenges through innovative and inclusive programming. The co-located health hub services address social issues that negatively affect health: seniors and others with mobility challenges, chronic diseases and living alone; anyone who is without a primary care physician or nurse practitioner; individuals and families who self-identify as Francophone, First Nations, Inuit, Métis and people experiencing housing, low income, nutrition and employment challenges.

The hub’s proximity to downtown is also an asset to the community’s economy. Clients, their family members, staff and visitors are close to shopping, restaurants and other services. A modern, new health care centre also attracts health care professionals including physicians. This major construction project is bringing many economic benefits for firms, contractors and tradespeople.

Shovels went in the ground in October 2017 with the support from both organizations’ clients, staff and volunteers, healthcare partners, area municipalities, the County of Simcoe and the community. We are looking forward to the opening of this collaborative modern health centre supporting client wellness, easier access to services for residents and families, and recruitment of physicians and professionals to provide their care. Many of the building’s spaces will be shared such as physiotherapy, conference, community kitchen and gathering rooms, and youth programming space. Washrooms are gender neutral and common spaces will accommodate the particular needs of children, patients and people with physical challenges. Several rooms are designated for smudging for Indigenous ceremonies and the entire facility is intended to create a welcoming place for clients, staff and the community.

This process has truly been a collaborative one, with both health care organizations being an equal partner from the beginning. We have embarked on this journey together and are moving this project forward in a very caring, respectful and innovative way. We look forward to this vision becoming reality in our community.

Carol Lambie is President and CEO, Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care.