Patients, caregivers and health care workers urged to join new advisory committees

By Jennifer Bieman, St. Thomas Times-Journal

ST. THOMAS – Southwestern Ontario’s largest health care administration agency is looking for advice, not from the buttoned-down consultants, but from people who’ve experienced the system firsthand.

The South West Local Health Integration Network — which oversees nearly 200 care providers from Tobermory to Port Stanley — is looking for patients, families, caregivers and health care practitioners willing to share their experiences on one of its new advisory committees.

“We’re looking for people … who can help us to best understand how we can continue to engage patients and families in the work that we’re doing,” said Kelly Gillis, senior director of system design and integration.

The Crown organization is looking for 10 to 15 members to sit on panels in each of its five regions — London Middlesex, Huron Perth, Grey Bruce, Oxford and Elgin. Would-be volunteers have until May 1 to submit applications. Staff at the South West LHIN will appoint members by June and are hoping to have meetings underway by the fall.

The local sub-groups will identify the biggest health care priorities in their area — information that can help the South West LHIN tailor its program spending to address the needs.

“We can really drill in to understanding what those local challenges are within that sub-region and look at ways to make improvements in the system,” Gilles said.

Select volunteers from each region will also serve on larger, LHIN-wide panels. The first will weigh in on how health care is delivered and suggest policies to improve it. The second group will deal with how plans are implemented and help determine future strategies for the LHIN.

All the committees will play an important role in how LHIN decisions are made, Gilles said.

“We do have decision-making processes, obviously. Some decisions would come up to the LHIN board, for example, how we’re allocating dollars,” she said. “We see these tables as influential in understanding what local priorities are and understanding what some of the best strategies are.”

Though the South West LHIN has sought patient input before, the formal group is a first for the agency. The public advisory committees are part of a new provincial mandate, the Patients First Act, which passed in December.

Though the new LHIN-led groups give some power to the public, PC health critic Jeff Yurek is holding his applause until the program rolls out completely.

“I think it’s a tremendous idea to involve the public in decisions about health care, as long as their voices are heard and they’re utilized,” said Yurek, who represents Elgin-Middlesex-London.

“Unless these committees have some teeth in their decision-making, it’s just for show.”