Improving Student Health and Wellbeing


Welcome back to the many students returning to our communities this month. As a community with four outstanding post-secondary institutions, we are fortunate to benefit from the infux of talent and perspective these students bring. Student health has been front and centre at the WWLHIN over the past number of years as we have worked with our partners to improve access to student health supports, particularly in mental health. 

This year, we developed a student mental health resource focused on “stopping the stigma” with information for students about free and easy access to mental health tools such as Big White Wall ( This online resource provides immediate access to a peer-support network for students to connect with. The WWLHIN had a booth during student orientation week at our institutions and as students signed up for activities, they also had the opportunity to learn about their local health system and the supports available to them off campus.

No one knows better what support students need than students themselves. This fall, we are creating a Student Health Advisory Committee as a subcommittee of our Patient and Family Advisory Committee. This group of local students will provide insight into how to improve student health, and will help design and test new digital health solutions for students.

Our Mental Health and Addiction nurses are also out in schools working with students and supporting them through the stressful transition to new schools, grades and other challenges. Working closely with schools and school boards, our nurses are an integral part of the school community. The feedback we receive from students about the value these nurses bring to them is incredibly powerful. Many students share how hopeless they felt and how these nurses believed in them when they couldn’t themselves.

While some students may only join our community for a short time, we hope they will stay a long time. By helping students become valued members of our community, engaging them in community activities and organizations, and supporting them with community resources, we can reduce the isolation some students feel and hopefully encourage them to choose Waterloo Wellington as their current and future home.

Building The Next Global Health and Social Innovation Centre


Guest Blog by the Director of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships, Elliot Fung 

In a pre-budget consultation with the Ontario Ministry of Finance on Tuesday, January 6, 2018, Elliot Fung, Director of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network was given three minutes to outline a few things for the Minister of Finance on what the local health system needs for consideration for next years’ provincial budget. The following is a summary of his presentation:

In partnership with clinicians and providers, we have made incredible progress to improve the health and wellbeing of local residents. This includes:

  • Recording some of the lowest emergency department wait times in the province for the sickest patients
  • World-class cardiac care outcomes (literally the best place in the province to receive cardiac care), and
  • Among the lowest hospital mortality ratios in Canada

The reality is, we’re not little Waterloo Wellington anymore. Our health system can be a booming economic driver in the province with a rapidly expanding agri-food/health/bio-medical/social innovation sector.

Given the right support and conditions for growth, this region could rival other health and bio-med innovation centres around the globe such as the Boston bio-medical corridor whose estimated economic impact of the 1,000 plus health and bio-med companies and 50,000 plus employees tops nine billion dollars. Imagine if we could do that right here.

What if you were having hip replacement surgery and a new technology were available to the surgeon to make the procedure so accurate and precise that it literally eliminated the need for follow-up surgery, greatly improving the patient experience and outcomes?

What if you could schedule and track a personal support worker right from your phone (like Uber)? What if someone could modify an X-ray machine to eliminate the need for a thoracic CT scan, improving wait times for other patients waiting for CT scans?

Our Chief Clinical Information Officer, Dr. Mohamed Alarakhia shared that it takes an astounding 13 years for best practices in mental health and opioid prescribing to have a meaningful impact on patients. We have digitized best practices and closed this gap to a few months. And, patients benefit by getting more appropriate medications. If we can spread this across the province, we can decrease ED visits and hospital admissions everywhere, and provide better service to our patients.

What if I told you that soon, parents in Waterloo Wellington can throw away those yellow child immunization records because we are digitizing them, saving all sorts of administrative time at school boards, public health and at home.

These and many more health innovations exist and have been invented in Waterloo Wellington and through partnerships with incredible organizations like Communitech, the Accelerator Centre and the GreenHouse, a student incubator at the University of Waterloo, we are actively seeking even more of these patient centred innovations to scale across the system.

If we are to continue to attract and retain the talent we need to compete in the global health innovation economy, we need a world class health system here in our community. But we won’t get there without increased support and investment.

First, we need to bring more speciality care home to our community. Many of our residents are still travelling too far for essential care. Second, we need to continue to invest in the spread and scale of the incredible innovations coming out of Waterloo Wellington, establishing this Region as a World Class Health Innovation Ecosystem.

The last point I’ll share, although there is much more to share and much more which is needed, is the need for increased investments in home and community care to support our aging population. We have a serious personal support worker (PSW) capacity issue in our community, and it will take the entire community working together to attract and retain talent to this vital profession. We have made some incredible partnerships with organizations like Conestoga College to build an enhanced curriculum for PSWs to better prepare them for more complex patients. But there’s much more we can and should do as a community, and with your help.

Elliot Fung blog photoThank you for your continued investments in our local health system.


The unfortunate barrier to health innovation: scale and adoption

Medicine doctor and stethoscope in hand touching icon medical network connection with modern virtual screen interface, medical technology network conceptGuest Blog by the Director of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships, Elliot Fung 

After investing six months of time, resources and effort chasing a relatively large investment and not being successful, the founder and CEO of a start-up turned to me and said, “You realize that 51 companies have started and died in the Valley in the time we’ve been wasting trying to do this, right?”

His words didn’t shock me, but stuck with me. The large amount of time it takes us to adopt innovative solutions and change antiquated systems and processes by chasing new dollars instead of re-purposing the dollars we already have isn’t helping anyone – industry partners, health providers, clinicians – and most importantly, patients.

So there’s no misinterpretation, we shouldn’t rush in to things and innovate for the sake of calling ourselves innovators. I believe that we need to be thoughtful, careful and deliberate when we are introducing a new technology or process into the health care system. After all, it can affect real people, often vulnerable, sick people. As a result it carries a higher degree of risk.

Yet, if we are truly committed to improving patient outcomes and freeing up vital clinical capacity, the entire health system should come together to collaborate and support each other. We need to work together to manage risk and adopt new initiatives. Patients today have every right to expect that their health system is doing everything it can possibly do to improve their experience and outcomes.

What happens when we don’t scale and adopt innovative health solutions? Our industry partners, including many local start-ups, leave for greener pastures. They go south of the border or overseas to places that are more willing to adopt innovative health technologies and to health systems with lucrative incentives.

And we stay stuck in a place where health providers find it difficult to accommodate the ever-growing and increasingly complex patient populations coming through their doors. Clinicians continue to spend time doing things they shouldn’t have to do instead of direct patient care. Most importantly, patients wait longer for procedures, experience poorer health outcomes, and get overwhelmed by an overly complex and antiquated system that relies on old technology and processes.

We are not short on ideas. We are short on time, or rather we spend too much time not taking advantage of the incredible health innovation ecosystem we have right in our backyard. Imagine for a moment that we had hundreds of incredibly advanced health technologies at our disposal. What would they be? What could they do for you?

What if you are having hip replacement surgery and a new technology was available to the surgeon to make the procedure so accurate and precise that it literally eliminated the need for follow-up surgery?

Imagine how amazing it would be if someone could modify an X‑ray machine to take high-quality images that would eliminate the need for a thoracic CT scan, making for a better patient experience and reducing wait times for a procedure.

What if someone invented a smart mattress that could make regular adjustments to eliminate the development of bedsores? What if you could schedule and track a personal support worker right from your phone, like Uber? Wouldn’t it be incredible if we had an app, backed by some powerful data that could monitor and predict the mental health and resilience of health care workers, to ensure they are able to best care for their patients?

These are some pretty amazing ideas. Actually, what is equally amazing is that each one of these ideas exists. Companies in Waterloo, working on creative and innovative solutions, have been trying to penetrate our local health system; however, all have experienced barriers of some sort when they try to scale and adopt the solutions.

We owe it to our patients, our hard-working clinicians, the local economy, our taxpayers, future generations, and for the long-term sustainability of our health system, to make it better for everyone. That means jumping to the next curve and moving whatever barriers are in front of us, and taking the bold step to establish Waterloo Wellington as a globally recognized health and social innovation leader.

Elliot Fung blog photo


Elliot Fung is Director of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network. Follow him on Twitter at @elliotgfung

Change Day: A Simple But An Important Change In Communication Can Have A Lasting Impact

Guest Blog by the Chair of the Patient and Family Advisory Committee, Coreen Duke-Carroll


My desire to become an advocate for patients and caregivers began in 2004 when I landed in the ER and was hospitalized with an unusual condition that required months of rehabilitation. Then in 2012, my mother was diagnosed with cancer.

From 2012 until my mother’s death in 2016, I was her primary caregiver. I helped to care for my mother through her cancer treatments and through the tragic loss of my sister in 2014. My sister lost her life at the hands of her husband whom had been struggling with mental illness and addictions for many years.

Caring for my mother while journeying through the loss of my sister was one of the most heart wrenching and difficult times of my life. The loving support of my family and friends was immeasurable, and the amazing support I received from health care professionals was commendable. Although, there were trying and exasperating times that left me feeling as though I wasn’t being heard or that my input carried little to no value in the eyes of the health providers. Through these experiences I became passionate about patient and caregiver advocacy.

Now part of the Waterloo Wellington LHIN’s Patient and Family Advisory Committee (PFAC), I am inspired by the LHIN’s desire to incorporate the patient perspective into processes, programming and campaigns. By making the simple and important change of incorporating the patient and caregiver voice into the broader functioning of the organization, I can already see it having an impact.

For example, the amazing Change Day campaign was in-part created by PFAC – learn more about the Change Day campaign here. The PFAC was actively engaged in the creation of the Waterloo Wellington LHIN’s Change Day pledge: to communicate effectively with patients, families and caregivers at all points of the continuum of care so that they feel valued.

Communication is so critical to the patient and family member, it allows them to feel empowered, to make an informed decision about their care or the care of a loved one, and to know that their voice is valued and honored by the care provider.  Clear and respectful communication allows for productive and cohesive working relationships, which ultimately improves the patient experience. Not only do patients and caregivers need to be given the space to speak, but health providers need to have the presence of mind to listen respectfully to what is being said.

Reimaging how communication could function better in a patient/caregiver/health provider relationship may seem like a large or onerous task, it’s the simple changes that can have the largest impact.

Therefore, I challenge every health provider to take a moment to think about how a simple change in communication could empower patients and caregivers so that they feel valued. Something as simple as listening to a caregiver or to allowing patients time to ask additional questions or sharing their concerns can improve care, reduce tension, and positively impacts the patient experience.

Simple changes in communication can lead to trusting, lasting and healthy relationships, which ultimately serves to improve the patient experience. Please consider joining the Waterloo Wellington LHIN Change Day campaign, make a pledge to improve patient care through effective communication, learn more here.

State of the Health System


As the CEO for the local health system, I have the great privilege of working to improve the health of the 800,000 residents we serve across Waterloo Wellington.

Our health system is a community asset – one that has been built by the hard work of community leaders, health professionals, and through public funding over many years. The responsibility for overseeing and improving this vital community asset is not one I take lightly.

As investors and beneficiaries of the health system, our community deserves to know how it is advancing. This is why we are hosting our first State of the Health System Address. On September 29th, our community will come together to learn about the progress made in improving the local health system and the work still ahead to improve access, equity, and the patient experience.

I recently heard a story from one of our care coordinators, a social worker, who supports some of our most vulnerable residents with very complex health needs.

One of her patients was transitioning into palliative care and had an almost new hospital bed in their home they wanted to donate. Earlier that day, the care coordinator had heard from an occupational therapist about a patient who was sleeping on plywood without a mattress. This patient was blind and a recent double amputee who was suffering from not sleeping on a proper bed. It took some coordination – including a supportive landlord who offered to pick-up and move the bed – but that bed has changed the life of this patient.

Making the connection to provide a new bed for this patient isn’t a health procedure you’ll find in any textbook. However, it’s the one that will prevent a number of other health issues from occurring that would require additional services – not to mention the incredible impact on the patient’s quality of life.

These are the stories that inspire me as work to make it easier for residents to be healthy, and to get the care and support they need. I look forward to sharing more stories on September 29th.




Starting with the Patient Experience


True to our strategy, the past couple months have been focused on starting with the patient experience. To make meaningful improvements to the care experience for patients we need to listen directly to them. This is why our first initiative and announcement as a new organization was the launch of our Patient Experience Program.

As a foundational step, we are in the process of recruiting local residents to join our Patient and Family Advisory Committee. This committee of diverse patient and family members, representative of our community, will guide us in developing a Patient Experience Program that will embed the patient voice in everything we do within our organization, and across the local health system.

As we work to develop new ways to engage patients in their care and the design of their local health system, we also celebrated the implementation of a number of initiatives that have had an immediate positive impact on the patient experience.

For example, a new Rapid Recovery Therapy program helps patients go home from hospital sooner, allowing them to receive high-quality, intensive rehabilitative care in their home. The program increases capacity in the health system by freeing up rehabilitative care beds for patients with the most complex needs. Not only do patients achieve similar outcomes to their in-hospital peers, but they greatly appreciate being at home. A patient in the program shared “there was someone here every day, working with me and encouraging me. Being at home motivated me to do more. I was more active and felt more comfortable doing my exercises because I was in an environment that I knew”.

Not only has this delivered a better patient experience, but also improved the quality of care we provide. The Waterloo Wellington LHIN was recently recognized by the Ontario Stroke Network as a high performer and provincial leader in delivering high-quality stroke care. In particular, hospitals in Waterloo Wellington were the highest performers in all of Ontario for all but one of the metrics for stroke rehabilitation and reintegration. More residents in Waterloo Wellington receive care on a specialized stroke unit than anywhere else. Local residents go home faster, within target, and receive the highest number of minutes of in-home rehabilitation therapy.

As an organization, everything we do starts and ends with the patient experience. I continue to be impressed with the passion and dedication of our staff to their patients. As we increase opportunities to hear from patients directly and undertake more efforts to support clinicians and others on the front-line, patients will continue to benefit from tangible improvements in their care.



Empowering Clinical Leaders

Guest Blog by Gloria Cardoso, BScN, MHSc, CHE. Executive Lead, Primary Health Care

img_2017_clinical7Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to work with incredible clinicians. Whether it was as a critical care nurse, health leader within hospitals, home and community care, provincial physician membership organization and the Waterloo Wellington LHIN – I continue to be inspired by the commitment and passion of those who provide care for people in our community.

I love learning the story behind why people chose a clinical career and am amazed what I learn about people’s experience and how that shaped their path.

  • One Gerontologist told me about her grandfather who had Alzheimers. That experience shaped her desire to find ways to help seniors and their families live a quality of life with dementia.
  • One social worker told me about her experience with her younger sister who had leukemia. She wanted to work with children and families in the cancer unit as she understood firsthand how challenging the illness is on the person, family and friends.
  • One nurse practitioner explained her parents were clinicians and she wanted to carry the service vocation in the rural community in which she grew up. She came from a long history of clinicians in her family.

Most recently I met up with a past colleague who worked at a hospital as an infection control doctor. In the past few years he shifted his practice from hospital to treat people in the community who suffer from Hepatitis C. He saw a need, responded, and now has built a thriving clinic making it easier for these individuals to be healthy and get the care and support they need. Many of these people were overlooked by the health system but today they have a place to go for help. His story is one of Vision, Courage and Empowerment.

Amazing stories of people making a difference in our world. 

One of our local priorities is to empower clinician leaders to help drive meaningful system improvements. We commit as a LHIN to walk hand in hand with clinicians to make the necessary changes for our residents. We believe that patients and clinicians are our greatest advisors – helping us understand what is working, what needs fixing, and how best we might make needed change.

Listening to and supporting clinicians to make it easier for them to help their patients has resulted in significant improvements to care. One such example is our work to share information between mental health service providers and primary care practices. Our local clinicians told us this information was critical to help them help their patients – we listened, learned and now are making it happening.

We are currently recruiting for a Vice President, Clinical and Sub-region clinical leaders. These roles will be instrumental in helping reach as many clinicians as we can to seek their advice and input into changes needed to improve their patient and clinical experience. We’ve had a great track record working with clinical leaders and have outstanding clinical physician leads working with us. We look forward to adding additional clinical leadership to our LHIN team as we aspire to make it easy for people to stay healthy, and get the care and support they need.

Connecting Innovations in Agri-Food with the Health & Social Innovation Ecosystem


Many innovations in health are focused on improving outcomes for patients. Recently, I had the opportunity to connect with dozens of thought leaders in the agri-food, environmental and life sciences industries through the Guelph Chamber of Commerce to hear about opportunities to do just that as well as support residents to live and stay healthy every day.

Bill Charnetski, Ontario’s Chief Health Innovation Strategist, spoke passionately about the innovation imperative and how we are leveraging innovation across government, private and not-for-profit sectors to drive better outcomes for residents while supporting local businesses, entrepreneurs and researchers.

Guelph is a city known for its innovative culture in agriculture and food science, life, biomedical and environmental research and manufacturing. The message Bill delivered is important as we look at ways to both support our local industries and create jobs while leveraging their expertise to improve the health of residents in our own communities.

argi_foodeventWe heard from thought leaders at University of Guelph who are conducting incredible research in molecular and cellular biology and how this research will positively impact patients.  I was equally inspired to learn about innovations in food science that will produce some of the healthiest whole grains, right in Guelph, offering an incredibly healthy food source for patients and residents. Integrating our innovations in the food supply sector with the health sector is important as we look forward.

Equitable access to local healthy food is also important. As a health system and a responsible partner in the broader community – if we are going to support residents to live healthy lives, we need to look at making access to healthy food much easier for all. We have local champions of food security taking on this challenge such as Community Support Connections, Meals on Wheels and More, an organization that continues to innovate to find healthier and more equitable solutions for residents.

We also have organizations creating momentum through social innovations such as the Working Centre in Kitchener, which innovates every day as they find solutions to support some of our most vulnerable residents, and St. Paul’s Greenhouse, a social impact incubator at the University of Waterloo whose students have developed many practical solutions to health problems and turned those solutions into local businesses.  And we have social impact programs at our local innovation hubs like Communitech and Innovation Guelph.

I look forward to connecting more and more innovators and growing our partnership with the Guelph Chamber of Commerce and our fellow Chamber members.

If you are interested in connecting with us or any of our innovation partners, please reach out to me at or @brucelauckner.

A Huge Thank You to Nurses

nuresesweek2017 copy

This week we have celebrated the incredible nurses working in our local health system. I was inspired by the diverse profiles of local RPNs, RNs, and NPs, working across the health system and how passionate they are about their patients. Most of them spoke about wanting to make a difference and the value they add supporting families through challenging times. I couldn’t agree more.

For me, I have been fortunate to have many great nurses care for me and my family over the years. I think of the care coordinator who helped make my mom’s final wishes a reality as well as those who cared for her in her home, the nurses at my family health team, and more. As a sports guy, I have had my fair share of injuries and as a dad, I’ve also spent a fair bit of time at the family doctor and in the ED worrying about my kids.

So on behalf of my family, and the thousands of families we serve across Waterloo Wellington – a heartfelt thank you for everything you do each and every day.


Improving Hospice Palliative Care Across Waterloo Wellington


Guest Blog – Emmi Perkins, Director, Regional Hospice Palliative Care Program

As demographics shift and our population ages, hospice palliative care is becoming more and more important to local residents. Observing this shift, the Waterloo Wellington LHIN continues to improve access, supports and resources to make sure the right care is available when residents need it.

The first question you might ask is – what exactly is hospice palliative care?

Hospice palliative care aims to relieve suffering and improve the quality of living and dying.

Hospice palliative care strives to help patients and families:

  • address physical, psychological, social, spiritual and practical issues, and their associated expectations, needs, hopes and fear.
  • prepare for and manage self-determined life closure and the dying process
  • Cope with loss and grief during the illness and bereavement.

Hospice palliative care is appropriate for any patient and/or family living with, or at risk of developing, a life-threatening illness due to any diagnosis, with any prognosis, regardless of age, and at any time they have unmet expectations and/or needs, and are prepared to accept care.

Over the last few years we have developed and implemented new strategies to improve the hospice palliative care patient experience. A great example of this is our successful Coordinated Bed Access Program.

The Coordinated Bed Access Program is a collaborative program, developed by hospice palliative care providers to communicate both demand for and availability of hospice palliative care beds throughout the region in a timely manner.  Depending on a patient’s needs, providers work together to match patients with available beds, which means patients are getting the care they need, faster.

Time is incredibly important in all aspects of a patient’s care, but especially in end-of-life care. It can mean the difference between honoring a patient’s preferred end-of-life care plan and having them pass away in a place that wouldn’t have been their first choice. Fortunately, 83% of local residents are able to pass away in their preferred place. But we still have more work to do to make this a reality for all residents.

Supporting residents to die in their preferred place is enabled through strong partnerships amongst hospice palliative care providers in each community.  These dedicated hospice palliative care teams are skilled and knowledgeable about palliative care and local resources and are therefore able to ensure the needs of patients with complex pain and symptom management issues are addressed in the setting of their choice.  Additionally,  these teams promote and support other providers in each community to identify patients who would benefit from a palliative approach to care and to deliver this comprehensive approach to addressing the needs of patients who are in their last year of life (and their caregivers).  A recent key enhancement to these teams is a standardized role for the hospice palliative care nurse practitioners to support primary care providers who are caring for patients with palliative care needs.

We are also undertaking planning activities to understand our current hospice palliative care resources and to plan for services that will be required in each sub-region to support equitable access to high quality hospice palliative care and in anticipation of greater future demand for hospice palliative care. Relative to other regions in Ontario, Waterloo Wellington is well resourced with respect to residential hospice and other end-of-life care beds.  In light of anticipated demographics shifts, we do need to better understand resources required to ensure high-quality care for patients whose preferred place of death is home.

But supporting care at end-of-life is only one component of hospice palliative care. As patients near end-of-life, we also need to develop supports to make the transition to hospice palliative care easier for patients and their families. One of the ways we will do this is to embed Advance Care Planning into all care settings.

It is difficult to know what to do when a loved one is diagnosed with a life-limiting illness. One of the best ways to prepare for this stage in life is to have a conversation about Advance Care Planning. Advance Care Planning is communicating your wishes, values and beliefs to your substitute decision maker (SDM) in the event you are incapable of making health care decisions for yourself. In order to assist and encourage patients to talk openly about their wishes we are supporting care providers and other community members to encourage individuals to identify their SDM and to have these conversations.

Overall, we have made many improvements to hospice palliative care in Waterloo Wellington. And as we continue to improve care, the patient experience will be our main focus. We want to create an equitable, accessible and experience focused health care system, and in order to achieve these goals we have to put the patient at the heart of everything we do, and this includes hospice palliative care.