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Primary care

Ontario announces 52 family health teams

TORONTO – As part of a plan to improve primary care, Ontario has announced the formation of 52 new Family Health Teams and three new networks of Family Health Teams.

“Ontario families, including thousands who could not find a family doctor, will now have access to doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who will not only treat them when they’re sick, but do more to keep them healthy in the first place,” said Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Family Health Teams include doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and other healthcare professionals working together to provide access to healthcare 24 hours a day, seven days a week, close to home. Physicians working in an interdisciplinary group practice see up to 52 percent more patients than those working in a solo practice, the government said.

The government said that information technology (IT) will form the backbone of the Family Health Teams, easing the flow of information from one healthcare provider to another.

In addition to the 52 teams that are being set up and funded in communities across Ontario, the government announced that Hamilton, Barrie and Peterborough are being given the green light to set up “networks” of family health teams that will work together to coordinate and improve primary care throughout their communities. The exact number of family health teams in those communities will be determined by the communities working with the province to ensure the best primary care.

The first wave of Family Health Teams, including these networks, will provide care to more than one million patients in 47 communities across Ontario. Some of the teams will be up and running within the next few months while others will take more time to hire staff and complete facility renovations.

More communities will be creating Family Health Teams to meet the government’s goal of 150 across Ontario by 2007/08. In making the announcement, McGuinty returned to the Brighton Health Services Centre, in Brighton, Ont., where he pledged in 2003 to improve front-line care for Ontarians if elected Premier.

The new Brighton Family Health Team will include doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners working together with other healthcare providers, such as a pharmacist, social worker/mental health professional and dietician. The team will also have linkages to local hospitals, a hospice, the YMCA, an Ontario Early Years Centre and the local public health unit.

“Family Health Teams provide a continuum of care, so they can do more to promote health and prevent disease, as well as treat illness,” said George Smitherman, minister of health and long-term care. “That saves lives and precious healthcare dollars. We’re changing the way healthcare is delivered in Ontario to better serve people and their communities.”

As mayor of Brighton, Northumberland MPP Lou Rinaldi helped spearhead the local fundraising drive that led to the creation of their healthcare centre, which will now be home to its new Family Health Team.

“This is great news for my community and for other communities that have been working hard to cope with a shortage of doctors,” Rinaldi said. “It means better access to better care – and that’s something we’ve been working hard to achieve. I’m grateful to the Premier for helping us reach that goal.”

The creation of the 52 Family Health Teams and the three networks in Hamilton, Barrie, and Peterborough exceeds the target of 45 teams set last spring.

“We had such a tremendous response from healthcare professionals and communities about Family Health Teams that we’re introducing more teams than originally planned,” said Dr. Jim MacLean, executive lead for primary healthcare with the Health Results Team. “This shows a real desire to build on primary care in Ontario, which will be good for patients, healthcare professionals and communities for many years to come.”

“Many doctors have expressed interest in working in collaborative teams with other healthcare professionals,” said Dr. John Rapin, president of the Ontario Medical Association. “We look forward to working with the government to improve the ability of Ontario’s patients to access the healthcare services they need and deserve.”

“We congratulate the government for announcing more Family Health Teams than expected, and we look forward to more,” said Joan Lesmond, president of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario. “We also welcome the inclusion of registered nurses and nurse practitioners in the new Family Health Teams. RNs and NPs will finally be able to contribute more fully to improving access to high-quality primary care.”