Mental health care that meets people where they are
The Royal reaches out to deliver care where it’s needed
Each year, thousands of people in Ottawa and its surrounding regions receive mental health care from The Royal without ever walking through the hospital’s doors. Whether they’re seniors living in long-term care, people who are homeless, adults taking progressive steps toward recovery from serious mental illness, or people receiving therapy through the convenience of a video conference, they’re getting the care they need within their own communities.
In my five years at The Royal, I’ve seen the positive impact that community-focused services can make for individuals as well as our ability to provide mental health care across our health system. Now, as president and CEO of The Royal, it is part of my role to guide the organization forward, and community-focused services represent an important part of our future.
Mental illness is never what defines a person. We all have or need other connections in our lives, whether they are family, friends, work, health services or social supports. Mental health care that is integrated with these things enables people to manage their illnesses within the context of their daily lives. This allows people to set and achieve life goals and be part of broader communities that support wellness.
When I think of The Royal’s future, I envision a hospital without walls — an organization of mental health experts working alongside other health care and social service providers throughout the community.
When people receive care in the community, it becomes integrated with other aspects of a person’s life and with other services that support a person’s wellness. For example, staff in The Royal’s Community Mental Health Program help clients access housing, manage their finances, pursue education or work and participate in activities that are meaningful to them. They also educate and train others working with these same clients.
While in-patient care will always be an important and necessary part of the mental health system, a system of integrated community care helps reduce the strain on hospitals, in particular emergency rooms, by helping people get and stay healthy closer to home. Above all, getting mental health help in the community allows people to maintain the things in their lives that support their well-being.
Connecting with people outside of a hospital environment can also provide helpful insight for health care providers. The Royal’s geriatric outreach teams, for example, meet and provide consultations for seniors with mental health issues where they live — a much needed service.
The teams tell me that the ability to go out into people’s homes, whether that’s their long-term care home, private home, or retirement home, and to see them where they’re living lets doctors, nurses and other clinicians do a much better assessment of what’s happening and determine next steps.
Working directly with other community carers also provides the opportunity for education and collaborative problem solving. This day-to-day expertise exchanged between health care partners increases the quality of and capacity for care across our mental health system.
The Royal’s telemedicine clinics are an example of this. Working in partnership with community health services in Ottawa and throughout the region, our clinicians provide virtual consultations to help establish the best care for people with mental health issues. This may mean clarifying a diagnosis, making medication recommendations, or sharing information about other appropriate services. This benefits the individual patient, but it also helps build the referring physician’s comfort and ability to care for patients with similar concerns in the future.
Making mental health care more accessible doesn’t always mean building bigger hospitals. It also means looking beyond the hospital to help more people where they live, work and access other health services. It’s about our team at The Royal working together with other community resources sometimes leading, sometimes supporting, but always collaborating.
Joanne Bezzubetz was appointed president and CEO of The Royal in August 2018. Prior to that, she spent five years as The Royal’s vice president of patient care services and has been working as a health care leader across Canada for more than 20 years.