Setting priorities

A letter from the Winnipeg Health Region

Winnipeg Health Region President & CEO
Wave, November / December 2015

Milton Sussman
Milton Sussman

Ask a dozen people for a list of the main challenges facing Canada's health-care system today, and chances are they will all have one thing in common: access.

That is entirely understandable. Access to care is one of the most important things that a health-care system can provide to patients, residents and clients.

I first learned about the importance of access to care when I served as Chief Operating Officer and Vice-President of Community Health Services at the Winnipeg Health Region from 2005 to 2010. That lesson was reinforced when I left the Region to work for the provincial government, both as Deputy Minister of Health and then as Clerk of the Executive Council and Cabinet Secretary.

So it should come as a surprise to no one that access to care would be a top priority of mine when I returned last month as President and CEO of the Region.

The good news is that there has already been a lot of tremendous work done to enhance access to care within the Region. Over the last five years, major investments have been made to ensure health care is more readily available to patients and clients.

For example, three new QuickCare clinics have been built over the last few years, and there are plans to build three more in the near future. These clinics, operated by nurse practitioners, offer an alternative to emergency departments for people who need immediate care but can't get an appointment with their regular physician. The number of people visiting QuickCare clinics hit 36,096 in 2013/14 and grew to 42,572 in 2014/15, a clear indication that these facilities are popular with the public.

There are also plans to add to the city's five existing ACCESS centres by building new ones in St. Boniface and Fort Garry, as well as a smaller scale version in St. Vital. Often working with various partners, ACCESS centres provide a range of social and health services, including primary care, mental health and public health. Thousands of people visit ACCESS centres every year.

But it is also true that we must do more to show real progress in improving access to care, especially by reducing wait times in emergency departments and for various medical services. This progress needs to
be visible to those we serve. If it isn't, our good work in other areas will be eclipsed and our credibility will be undermined.

Of course, simply providing access to care is not enough by itself. It is also critical to ensure the care being provided is high-quality, safe, and patient-focused.

Ever since it was established in 1999, the Winnipeg Health Region has maintained a strong commitment to patient safety and quality, and has built very effective partnerships with many different and diverse community agencies and organizations. I want to continue to build on this work.

But while providing access to quality care must be a key priority for the Region, it is not the only one. As I noted in my speech at the Region's annual general meeting in October, there are a number of other areas that must be priorities for us as we move forward.

For example, I would like to see the Region become more of a leading partner in an integrated provincial health-care system. We are the largest health authority with the most capacity of any health region in Manitoba. Being a leading partner in a strong and integrated provincial health system can help reduce the volume, capacity, and cost challenges we face within the Region.

As our board has made clear, we must also make health equity a priority. Generally speaking, this means working to ensure all members of our community reach their potential for health and well-being. The latest Community Health Assessment shows that there are large health gaps in Winnipeg, particularly between higher-income and lower-income neighbourhoods. Many of these differences are due to unfair and modifiable social circumstances. Together with our board, I remain committed to changing health equity outcomes through an increased focus on the planning and provision of health services and through partnerships outside of the health-care sector.

Being accountable and transparent in everything we do must also be a priority, as is the need to build partnerships with all of our stakeholders, internally and externally.

It is also important for the Region to build on its commitment to be a partner in an effective academic health sciences network. The viability of the health-care system in Manitoba relies on a robust partnership between the Region and the University of Manitoba, as does our ability to provide specialized services, to advance innovation through research, and to educate health-care professionals.

Of course, there can be no action taken on any of these priorities without a strong workforce. As a result, we must make every effort to maintain our position as an employer of choice and to ensure that we continue to have a staff that is engaged and committed to delivering the best care possible.

Needless to say, making progress in all these areas will not be easy. Provincially and federally, governments continue to be challenged economically and fiscally. We need to prepare ourselves for a number of years of very small funding increases.

Having said that, we shouldn't forget that the overall budget for the Region in 2015 was more than $2.7 billion. Overall, health care represents more than 40 per cent of the budget in Manitoba. That's a lot of money. And it underscores how important it is to demonstrate value in the services we provide, to ensure that patients and taxpayers are getting value for their dollar.

But while the challenges are many, I believe they can all be overcome. We can improve access to care, and improve our systems and processes overall, by being disciplined, accountable and focused.

But most importantly, we must continue to be innovative and creative as we work to deliver care effectively and efficiently to people living across the Region and throughout the province. And that might be the biggest priority of all.

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Traditional Territories Acknowledgement
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority acknowledges that it provides health services in facilities located on the original lands of Treaty 1 and on the homelands of the Metis Nation. WRHA respects that the First Nation treaties were made on these territories and acknowledge the harms and mistakes of the past, and we dedicate ourselves to collaborate in partnership with First Nation, Metis and Inuit people in the spirit of reconciliation.
Click here to read more about the WRHA's efforts towards reconciliation

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