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Photo of Colleen Schneider and members of the St.James Assiniboia/Assiniboine South LHIGLetter from the Region
The public's role
How citizen advisory groups are helping
to shape health-care planning
Region staff member Colleen Schneider (standing) chats with members of St.James Assiniboia/Assiniboine South LHIG.
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Réal Cloutier
Interim President and CEO
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
May/June 2018

As frequent readers of this column will know, I often use this space to write about the important role our staff plays in our ongoing efforts to build a patient-centred health-care system.

But today I'd like to talk about another group of people who are also critical to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's mission in that regard: the public.

In recent years, health organizations around the globe have started to recognize the value of involving members of the public in decision-making at all levels of the health-care system.

The reason is simple: public engagement supports the development of efficient health-care services, as well as better outcomes for patients.

Here at the Region, we have created a number of Local Health Involvement Groups (LHIGs) and several other advisory councils as part of our broader public engagement efforts.

While LHIGs and advisory councils are similar in nature in that they are both primarily comprised of members of the public and provide feedback on matters related to health care, they do have different mandates. LHIGs generally deal with broader health-care issues and report directly to the Region's Board, while advisory councils focus on areas of specific interest, such as home care, mental health, or ethics, and provide advice and feedback to the leadership of that particular program or area. Both groups help us improve our services and define priorities. You can read more about LHIGs here.

The Region has six LHIGs located throughout the city - St. James-Assiniboia/Assiniboine South, Downtown/Point Douglas, River East/Transcona, Seven Oaks/Inkster, St. Boniface/St. Vital, and River Heights/Fort Garry. Each one has approximately 11 to 15 members and meets about six times a year between October and April. Each participant is asked to serve a three-year term, and the LHIGs are structured so that a portion of the membership turns over every year.

These groups provide an excellent opportunity for two-way discussion about all issues relating to health care. Over the last year, for example, LHIG members located throughout the city had the opportunity to weigh in on a variety of topics, including the patient journey and our plans to consolidate health services as outlined in the Healing Our Health System plan released last year. A report based on their thoughts and recommendations in both of these areas has been written and will soon be released to the public.

This kind of community feedback is invaluable to people working here at the Region because it enables us to get a really good understanding of the public's concerns and priorities. And that, in turn, allows us to make the appropriate adjustments in our plan and strategies as we go forward. Simply put, the LHIGs help provide us with an extremely important opportunity to test whether our health-care plans are in step with the public's expectations.

If LHIGs are primarily focused on high level policy issues, advisory councils are more concerned with how health care is delivered to patients and clients in specific areas or programs. Currently, the Region has advisory councils in several areas, including mental health, home care, long-term care, ethics, emergency services, and matters relating to patient and family care.

Many of the people who serve on advisory councils are former patients/clients or family members. As our story on advisory councils in this issue notes, this is in keeping with a growing trend within health care to learn from the insights of people who have direct experience with the system. Research shows that the input from patients and family members in this way can effectively make them "active partners" in the development of a patient-centred model of care.

DeeDee Budgell's experience illustrates the point.

As our story explains, DeeDee became deeply involved in the health-care system when her husband, Harry, landed in hospital after suffering a stroke about ten years ago.

Photo of DeeDee Budgell
DeeDee Budgell is a member of two Region advisory councils.

During his stay in hospital, DeeDee proved to be an indispensable resource to the staff. As the stroke left Harry unable to speak for himself, she was able to identify his health needs. In doing so, she was serving as an active partner in providing care to her husband prior to his passing.

Fortunately, her contributions did not end there. Today, she is a member of two advisory councils - the Patient and Family Advisory Council and the Long-Term Care Advisory Council. In that capacity, she continues to provide the kind of insight and advice that our organization needs in order to continue enhancing the delivery of care in all our hospitals, clinics and programs.

As noted in our story, DeeDee believes the people working in health care welcome public input.

"They are passionate about health care," she says. "When I go to the St. Boniface Hospital, I go up to the wards and talk to the people who used to take care of Harry. They're wonderful people."

Needless to say, the contributions made by DeeDee and other volunteers in our public engagement program are deeply appreciated. It is through their efforts that we are able to strengthen the public's role in decision-making within the Region. Doing so allows us to continue building the community-wide consensus necessary to create a sustainable, patient-centred health-care system - not just for today, but for the days to come.