Breaking down health care silos

Posted on February 23, 2009 in Governance Debates, Health Debates – Opinion/Editorial – Breaking down health care silos
Feb 23, 2009.

Innovative hybrids are sprouting across Ontario. Child care centres are being built in seniors’ residences. Food banks are operating out of health clinics. Mental health organizations are working out of supportive housing complexes.

The provincial government supports this collaboration in principle, but rarely in practice. Any community that wants to turn its provincially funded health centre into a one-stop shop for seniors, young mothers, immigrants, jobless workers, social assistance recipients and people who need mental health and addiction services, has to raise the money itself. Many are stymied.

Now a coalition of community health agencies has come up with a plan to get things moving. It is asking Ontario to set up a $150 million Community Hub Infrastructure fund, allowing municipalities to pull together the medical and social services people need to stay healthy.

It is a reasonable proposal, with a reasonable price tag.

The coalition, which consists of the Ontario Community Support Association, the Ontario Federation of Community Mental Health and Addiction Programs and the Association of Ontario Health Centres, says 50 projects could be launched immediately, creating thousands of jobs. In many cases, existing buildings could be renovated.

The initiative would bolster Ontario’s efforts to provide a strong start for children, reduce poverty, tackle youth violence, keep people out of hospitals and help seniors age at home. “It just seems like a no-brainer to take what we’ve got and leverage it,” says Susan Thorning, one of the chief advocates.

One detail hasn’t been work out. It is unclear whether Ontario would be able to use its share of the $12 billion earmarked infrastructure in last month’s federal budget for community hubs. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty specifically mentioned roads, bridges, public transit, schools, social housing and broadband Internet access.

If not, the province could use its own economic stimulus to replace funding from Ottawa.

There is a tremendous amount of creativity in this province. Harnessing it to transform Ontario’s once-rigid, centralized health-care system into a user-friendly model makes medical and financial sense.

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