Sustaining our health, sustaining our system

A letter from the Winnipeg Health Region

Winnipeg Health Region President & CEO
Wave, March / April 2012

Arlene Wilgosh

Over the last few months, I have attended several meetings with specialists, family physicians and nurses where health-system sustainability was a topic of discussion.

Now, that's not a complete surprise. After all, health-care costs have been rising for years as the population ages and service demands grow. Budgets are tight and efforts must be made to keep costs more manageable.

What is new, though, is the growing sense of urgency that seems to accompany these discussions. There also seems to be a growing consensus among health-care providers, administrators and health policy experts that the key to making health care more effective and efficient is primary care and primary prevention. These two ideas can cover a lot of ground, but essentially they come down to this: making sure people have access to a health-care provider who will, in turn, help them stay healthy and avoid or delay the need for more expensive health care down the line. A healthy population helps keep our system sustainable.

So how do we get there from here? Well, the good news is we are already on the path to sustainable health care. Like most jurisdictions across Canada, the Winnipeg Health Region has implemented a number of initiatives to prevent or reduce the onset of illness and make the delivery of care more efficient.

As I have written in the past, the very fact that we put out this magazine is one way in which we are trying to provide information to help people lead healthier, happier lives. In this issue, for example, you will find a column by Rosemary Szabadka that explodes some myths about food. Among other things, this entertaining and informative piece offers tips on how to maintain a healthy weight and explains why you should monitor your salt intake. The column coincides with a month-long campaign by the Dietitians of Canada to raise awareness about the importance of healthy eating.

If you are a baby boomer contemplating retirement, you may want to check out Laurie McPherson's column on page 38. It offers some useful advice on how you can mentally prepare yourself as you make the transition to the next phase of your life.

In this issue of Wave, you will find other stories that detail efforts to enhance access to care or promote the prevention of illness and disease. On page 8, for example, you will learn about the opening of the first of several QuickCare Clinics in Winnipeg.

These clinics are innovative in that they use nurse practitioners (registered nurses with specialized training in diagnosing and treating chronic diseases) to provide care to people with non-urgent health issues. It is expected they will help relieve some of the pressure on hospital Emergency Departments and provide for more efficient use of resources.

Open evenings and on weekends, QuickCare Clinics will also fill the gap for patients when their regular doctor is not available. In doing so, they will serve as a support - not a replacement - for family physicians.

The story on At Home/Chez Soi on page 16 is another example of an innovative approach to dealing with a health issue. Sponsored by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the project is examining new ways to help keep the homeless mentally ill off the streets.

Although it is still too early to draw any final conclusions from the project, the early indications are positive.

As the story explains, many of the participants in the project seem to be gaining a new lease on life. This is a good thing. As a society, it is extremely important that we do what we can to help address this social issue. But, as the story notes, this is also a health issue. Homeless people often end up being high-end users of the health-care system simply because they do not have a home. By providing them with one, by creating an environment in which they can take better care of themselves, we not only improve their quality of life, we also reduce their need for higher-end care.

Research, of course, is a major driver of innovation and sustainability in health care. In Manitoba, we are fortunate to have a number of excellent researchers working in all areas of medical and community health sciences. The story on Dr. Catherine Cook illustrates the point.

Catherine has helped drive some pretty important changes in the delivery of Aboriginal health care over the years. Now, as the principal investigator for Networks Environment for Aboriginal Health Research (NEAHR), she is helping to build capacity for Aboriginal health research in Manitoba. Partly through her efforts, researchers are now better able to collaborate with Aboriginal communities on studies that may lead to better health outcomes for Aboriginal people.

The story lists several projects that have added to our knowledge of Aboriginal health issues or will in the future. One study, for example, is taking a close look at infant mortality rates among Manitoba's M├ętis. It will also compare our infant mortality rate with those of other indigenous communities in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Needless to say, this type of information can be extremely valuable because it can raise questions about whether a preventive measure could be used to improve the health and well-being of our children. It's the kind of information that can guide the development of health policy and the delivery of care at every level. In doing so, it not only points the way to important improvements that can be made in the delivery of care, it also shows us how we can help make our population healthier and our health-care system more sustainable.

Wave: March / April 2012

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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