LETTERS: An op-ed from the Health Sciences North CEO

Meeting our future healthcare needs, together

To the Expositor:

One thing I have noticed since taking over as CEO of Health Sciences North (HSN) in Sudbury last year is the lack of knowledge and awareness across Northeastern Ontario that we truly are a regional hospital serving people from communities like North Bay, Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie the James Bay Coast and all points above and in between. 

People are surprised when I tell them that while we were intended 20 years ago to be a one-site hospital, we currently have 13 sites in Sudbury and an additional 25 sites across the region where our staff provides care and information technology supports, 

The majority of visits to our Cancer Centre are by patients from outside Sudbury – while that number is more than 30 percent of surgical procedures. Meanwhile, 60 percent of all patient visits to HSN for Cardiac Care were by people from outside Sudbury. 

HSN is your hospital during the most critical times in your life and the lives of your loved ones. 

This year, you’ve most likely heard about some challenging times at the hospital. HSN, along with almost every other hospital in Ontario, is facing systemic pressures of overcrowding combined with an aging population, which have put added strain on the healthcare system. It’s because of those pressures and years where annual provincial funding increases did not keep up with inflation, that HSN found itself in financial trouble and had to make some very difficult decisions to bring its financial house in order and deal with an $11 million deficit. This hasn’t been easy, however it has been necessary. We feel we have turned a corner. 

After months of hard work and a record amount of consultation, we will be releasing in February a new five-year strategic plan, with a renewed purpose statement and a small number of key goals and specific outcomes to be achieved by 2024. 

During the consultation process, we travelled extensively throughout the northeast, meeting with thousands of patients, stakeholders and community leaders, asking them what they wanted to see from HSN. We visited First Nations and went to Noëlville, Espanola, North Bay, Blind River, Elliott Lake, Manitoulin Island, West Parry Sound, Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie, among many other communities. 

There was one simple message we constantly heard. People want to see more of HSN. More mental health and addictions care. More remote patient monitoring. Faster access to a MRI. Effective care transitions. More use of technology to provide access to test results or schedule follow-ups. More collaboration on research to find long-term health care solutions for the people of Northeastern Ontario. 

You want us to provide high quality health services, support learning and generate research that improves health outcomes for the people of Northeastern Ontario. You want us to carry out our patient care, teaching and research responsibilities with 

integrity, ensuring patients and families remain the focus of all we do. You want us to partner with humility, valuing each person’s and each community’s strengths and ideas to bring the best care, education and research solutions forward. 

We are hard at work to meet these expectations. HSN will finalize plans in March to support a regional electronic medical record to make care safer, make health information available to health providers throughout the region and reduce the need for patients to re-tell their stories or repeat tests. We will launch in May a new Capital Master Plan to meet future demand and reduce the need for patients to travel outside the region for care. 

That being said, we must be aware of our future challenges. Ontario’s population will grow by 1.8 million in the next 10 years. That’s the equivalent of the population of Saskatchewan and Newfoundland combined. All of that growth will be outside of Northern Ontario. As the government increases health care services to a growing population in southern Ontario, the Northeast will need to rely more on collaboration and fundraising. This is our shared reality. 

As we welcome 2019, the board and senior leadership team at HSN and I are feeling optimistic. We believe the worst is behind us. HSN has worked very hard at eliminating its deficit and we are confident a balanced budget will be achieved by the spring. The Ontario government is committed to ending hallway medicine, enhancing mental health and addictions supports, and creating more long-term care beds. This will help address the systemic pressures facing the system. 

I want to thank HSN’s 7,300 employees, members of medical staff, learners and volunteers for their exceptional commitment and hard work. On their behalf, I wish you a happy and healthy New Year. 

Dominic Giroux 

President and CEO 

Health Sciences North