Public input continues to inform WRHA policy
By Janice Edwards
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Monday, June 28, 2021
Health care is a broad and challenging mandate, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Even before the arrival COVID-19, however, hospitals and regional health authorities across the province were faced with tough decisions aimed at providing quality services.
To help inform those tough decisions, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) continues to rely on a trusted partner: the general public.
A common misconception about public engagement in health care is that members of the general public are not well-informed about health issues or the complexity of health care systems - and therefore are ill-equipped to contribute meaningfully to decisions, planning, and policies.
In reality, most members of the public have real-life experiences in their role as patient, caregiver, family, friend, or community member and can offer invaluable insight and crucial perspectives about community values and priorities. Citizens are experts when it comes to the "lived experience" that helps improve the system, which is why engaging the public continues to be a priority for the WRHA.
So how exactly does the health region engage members of the public on issues related to the delivery of care? One way is through citizen panels called Local Health Involvement Groups (or LHIGs for short).
There are six LHIGs throughout the region, made up of a diverse group of 90 volunteers - from high school students to older adults - who are active in their communities and care about health. The LHIGs provide advice to the WRHA's Board of Directors and are tasked with exploring, discussing, and providing their unique community perspectives and ideas to address important issues impacting health care services. Their input continues to enhance the region's understanding of these issues and inform planning and policies that have allowed the WRHA to better meet the needs of patients and families.
Every year between September and May, each LHIG tackles at least two significant health issues. In 2020, the WRHA Board and leadership turned to the LHIGs to provide feedback on their pandemic-related experiences. We heard about the challenges many members faced in looking after themselves, caring for family, and how people were coping. Two top concerns shared by members included the impact of the pandemic on the health care system and on local businesses.
LHIG members provided input on the importance of sharing information in a timely manner and how to do so more broadly - feedback that helped the WRHA inform and improve its pandemic-related communication to the public. Admittedly, there's still more work to be done and many more improvements to be made, but what the LHIGs have done in this situation, as they always have, is also help to ensure that the region's priorities align with those of the communities and people we serve.
The second of the two topics explored by LHIG volunteers in 2020 concerned the impact of unconscious bias - defined as social stereotypes and preconceptions about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness - on patient experiences, treatments, and outcomes. Their contributions were captured in a report and is now one of the foundational documents being used for the Provincial Disrupting Racism Working Group.
In previous years, (late 2018 and throughout 2019), mental health and addictions were front and centre for the LHIGs. Thanks in part to their perspectives and recommendations, a workshop was developed to help increase staff knowledge and skills about the mental health needs of patients in acute care settings.
These are just a few recent examples of the ongoing dialogue, work, and collaboration between the WRHA and community members. The fact is, LHIGs have been at it for more than 18 years now and their role and function are far from an exercise in public relations. Rather, their role is based on one of the WRHA's guiding principles and what some might expect from a democratic society: that those who are affected by an decision (in this case anyone receiving health care services) have a right to be involved in the decision-making processes that affect their lives.
For more information about Local Health Improvement Groups, or to explore how you can get involved, visit wrha.mb.ca/engagement/lhig/.
Janice Edwards is Manager of Local Health Involvement Groups for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.