For most Canadians, long waits at emergency rooms are a familiar complaint. Now, a new project in Orléans, a suburb of Ottawa, aims to address the problem: a Family Health Hub, as it’s being called, will ease the strain on nearby hospitals by offering some similar services in a local setting. Dr. Robert Cushman, CEO of the Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), which coordinates health services for the 1.1 million people in the region, goes so far as to say this mini-hospital is “the future of health care” in Ontario.
Instead of travelling into Ottawa to access some primary care services—the nearest hospital, Montfort, is 15 km away—residents of Orléans will now be able to visit the Orléans Family Health Hub for a range of services all under one roof, including minor surgical procedures, cancer care, mental health care and dialysis. (The government of Ontario has announced a $1-million grant to get the planning phase off the ground; construction is to begin next year.)
Unlike a standard hospital, the Family Health Hub won’t have beds or a “full-blown emergency room,” says Kathy O’Neill, vice-president of planning and development at Montfort Hospital, one of its partners. And some specialized services, like major surgery, won’t be available. Still, “up to 50 per cent of cases that end up in emergency could have been dealt with outside,” notes Douglas Angus, a University of Ottawa health economist, who calls the Family Health Hub a “complement” to what’s offered in the city.
Ontario isn’t the first to experiment with health care delivery—Quebec has a network of community health centres offering a range of services, Angus notes. Observers say it’s a step in the right direction, easing pressure on local hospitals while boosting efficiencies in the system. “Hospitals are very expensive,” O’Neill says. “We have to think about how we can do things differently.”