On Monday, five local government and health organizations signed the Barrie Health Accord, focusing on the long-term health and well-being of the municipality, in addition to addressing root causes of health conditions that require emergency services and treatment.
The agreement — a “landmark” of its kind in Barrie — was signed by representatives from the city, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, Simcoe County, the Barrie Police Service and the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH)
“Big changes often start with a single step,” Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman said Monday. “The landmark single step I believe today is the bringing together of these five public sector organizations.”
Collectively, the five organizations that signed the agreement have annual budgets that are more than $1.2 billion.
“Both COVID and the pre-existing situation in our community really demand that we look at how we can work together over the longer-term to create a healthier community and address health and social challenges,” Lehman said.
The Barrie mayor read from the local health accord, which commits all five participating organizations to working together collaboratively and to making sustainable investments in the determinants of health.
The agreement also commits the organizations to participating in a community-wide planning process to coordinate the investments, to pursuing the project’s priorities across its organizations, and to setting measurable outcome metrics and transparently reporting them to the community.
“Over the past seven months, COVID-19 has put a huge strain on the regional social, community, health and emergency services and programs,” Simcoe County Warden George Cornell said.
“We know that these demands and pressures have existed well before this global pandemic. This landmark health accord is a commitment among regional partners to address and approach issues and challenges impacting the health and well-being of our communities and residents.”
Cornell said the agreement’s long-term goal is to alleviate pressure on the municipality’s systems and to improve residents’ quality of life.
In the next two decades, RVH president and CEO Janice Skot said Barrie’s population is going to double and age.
“This combination will put a huge strain on our system,” she said. “Forty-five per cent of our residents have one chronic disease and 20 per cent –or one in five — have multiple chronic diseases. These are huge risk factors.
We do know that if we focus, we can prevent some of these chronic diseases, and in fact, we can also delay them.”
If people focus on nutrition, exercise, moderately drinking and not smoking, it can have a huge effect on the level of chronic disease within the community, Skot added.
“In the next while, RVH will be doubling the size of its facility and also looking at a site in South Simcoe,” she said. “It’s just vital that we work together so that we can really shape the community around health and wellness.”
The COVID-19 pandemic — just like the opioid and homelessness crises in Barrie — has highlighted the pressure undertaken by all of the city’s services, Lehman said
“It’s a long-term commitment,” he said of the new agreement. “The second thing I would point to is that we’re specifying the determinants of health.”
Lehman noted there hasn’t yet been a comprehensive effort by local government and health care to collaborate to target the determinants that have a significant impact on the long-term health of the community.
“Those root causes are things like food, nutrition, active living, housing and other determinants,” he said.
“Fire prevention efforts target preventing fire, but they can also target preventing health calls, opioid calls by targeting the reasons why people end up in crisis and needing emergency services.”