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Health Care Priorities

Speaking Notes Presented by the Honourable George Smitherman, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, at the Aging at Home Innovations Showcase

April 23, 2008

Thank you very much, everybody. It's a real pleasure to be here with all of you and I want to thank you for all of the attendant care and support that you've been offering to this budding baby that is our Aging at Home Strategy. And I want to thank Tony [Woolgar, CEO of the SW LHIN and Chair of the Aging at Home Steering Committee].

He's played a big leadership role amongst the Local Health Integration Networks on the development of our Aging at Home Strategy and I really want to thank him for the leadership he's provided.

I also want to use my time today [to] put in very, very clear focus for all of you, the extent to which we're counting on Aging at Home as a key enabler for health care improvement. As well, we're strongly anticipating the work you're doing — and will be doing — in the area of one of the biggest new investments the government will make in any field.

Innovations over the past several years — with initiatives like family health teams, our wait-times focus, and the pioneering work done with the Aging at Home Strategy — give our government the necessary confidence to embark on a path that promises a substantial improvement in two areas, where our healthcare system suffers in the perceptions of Ontario's patients.

Any successful business knows that to succeed, you have to listen to your customers. In our case, our customers, the people of Ontario have told us a lot. And we are listening.

We can and we will do a thousand different things over the next four years to make healthcare better. But if emergency department performance is spotty or a citizen can't find a family healthcare provider like a doctor, or a nurse practitioner, then confidence in our overall product suffers.

We've learned the key lessons and now our government and the healthcare system must work together to produce a big dividend for Ontarians. And that entails improved confidence.

To reach that point, we need to let emergency room care providers concentrate on helping those most in need. That will mean that if you need a prescription, you'll go to your doctor, a community health centre or a walk-in clinic to get that script, not to an emergency room.

Those with mental illness or chronic diseases like diabetes will be able to find that necessary care in their community, not the E.R., which is a poor and costly substitute.

Our healthcare vision includes a system where those who need some help to get by will get it. For example, if you need additional home care or rides to health care appointments, we'll get you what you need so that you can continue to live independently at home, so that you can choose how and where to live.

The public health care system in Ontario will make sure that people currently searching for family health care get connected to the care that they need, whether it's a doctor in a solo practice, a family health team or a nurse practitioner-led clinic. The bottom line is this : the McGuinty government's vision for the future is family healthcare for everyone who wants it and our commitment is to add family healthcare for at least 500,000 more Ontarians.

I'm going to tell you a little bit about how we're going to get there. Our overall vision is probably very much like yours, founded on common sense. Do what we can to help people stay healthy, deliver good care when you need it and ensure sustainability of the health system for future generations.

I often say that we're in the confidence business, that the "I" in OHIP is "insurance", and people want to have confidence in their insurance product. Our recent re-election confirmed that public confidence in our healthcare system is improving. And from here, there's no turning back. Our actions have instilled hope and convinced Ontarians that the improvements that we need to make can be realized.

It's now time to zero in on some remaining perceptions and problems that impair confidence in our healthcare system because we work for the more-than 13 million Ontarians who own the health system. And they deserve to have confidence in their healthcare system.

Over the next four years, as we go about the thousand things I mentioned earlier, we intend to focus on two major priority areas to achieve our vision for health care: Reducing wait times with a particular focus on emergency departments and delivering access to family healthcare for all Ontarians.

Many Ontarians access our healthcare system at hospital emergency departments, very often for things that an E.R. is not purpose built to do. Fixing E.R. waits will improve patient satisfaction and enhance the public?s confidence. Why the E.R.? It stands as the warning signal on the dashboard that says something is wrong with the system.

It's complex and multi-faceted and that is why our solutions too must be numerous. Those solutions must not only tackle the problems in the E.R., but more importantly, go beyond the E.R. We need to focus on Aging at Home and the challenges of alternate levels of care patients, improve management of chronic diseases like diabetes, and enhance services for those with mental illness and addictions.

Our Aging at Home Strategy particularly breaks new ground in the care and support of seniors by focusing on the kind of innovation that's being showcased here, today. We cannot underestimate the historic nature of this initiative, both in its scope and in its impact. Aging at Home will provide support and services seniors need to live independently where they want and how they want.

As part of a four-year, 1.1 billion-dollar strategy, local health integration networks will provide more access to health services by matching needs of local seniors with appropriate support, including more homecare, community services like meals, transportation, shopping and snow shovelling, thus supporting seniors before they come to the E.R. This is how we?ll relieve pressures on hospitals, thereby decreasing wait times and increasing patient satisfaction.

Combining the power of our Aging at Home Strategy and really addressing alternate levels of care, which we will detail in the coming weeks, we'll enhance the options patients have to receive the care they need in the most appropriate setting.

The "A" in ALC means "alternate". Our values, supported by our investments, demonstrate our desire to provide Ontarians with an alternative to hospital care wherever appropriate.

Our aging at home strategy is important for its potential to improve the lives of Ontario's seniors and because it will provide them with better service and help ensure the sustainability of our healthcare system, by unlocking new strategies and by unlocking new capacities in many of the communities that have emerged in our diverse Ontario.

Why is this important? There is a demographic tsunami coming, with the first wave of baby boomers turning 65 in 2011 and the number of seniors doubling over the next 16 years. But we know that it costs less to support seniors in their own home than in hospitals or in long-term care. And far more importantly than that, we know well because we listen well to seniors, that they are happier at home, the place they know and love.

I want to say to all of you who have worked very vigorously to help to develop the Local Health Integration Network plans for Aging at Home that we're so grateful for the degree of detail, and the level of innovation that each of you has sought to achieve. We hope through the energy that you bring to this workshop today that you'll enhance also the understanding of ideas and initiatives that are being embarked upon in other parts of our province and that through this kind of sharing, learning from one another, peer-to-peer support, that we can enhance the capacity of the healthcare system to learn good lessons in one part of our province and to apply them to other LHINs across the vastness of the province of Ontario.

The second priority area I want to focus on family healthcare for all Ontarians who want it. Since 2003, we've made huge strides in increasing access to health professionals, especially with more team-based care, like family health teams, more community health centres, thousands more nurses — and as yesterday's College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario data shared — more doctors. These strategies combined extend family healthcare to more than 500,000 additional Ontarians and that is why we have so much confidence as we reach out to expand care to at least another 500,000 people in the province of Ontario.

Among the tools that we have to help us achieve this goal will be the creation of 50 more family health teams and 25 nurse practitioner-led clinics in the neediest locations.

While wait times get much of the media spotlight, I feel the most revolutionary change in healthcare over the last five years is the development and the growth of team-based care. It is symbolic of a system that has reoriented itself to put the patient at the centre of care.

Family health teams are providing comprehensive care. They reduce the need for visits to hospital ERs. That means hospitals can deliver the acute care they were designed to deliver and they can deliver it faster. There's plenty of hard work before us and it certainly won't be easy, but I fundamentally believe that the path we are on will protect our healthcare system for years to come.

There is no time in the recent history of our public healthcare system where we have been this close to the tipping point of truly remarkable transformation, when we've had the results that we've had, the momentum, the vision, the desire and the determination to continue to work steadfastly and to deliver to Ontarians the system that they need and in so doing, the confidence that they deserve.

Resolve today to hold firm in the face of doubts and uncertainties and together we can make it to healthcare's promised land where confidence grows and where our public healthcare system is sustained for the benefit of future generation of Ontarians.

Thank you very much.

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