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Advancing integrated care with the help of the Algoma Citizens’ Reference Panel

Earlier this year, households across Algoma received a package in the mail calling them to action. “Health services are changing,” the package read, “and we need your help”. For thirty-three Algoma residents, this was the beginning of a month-long journey as a community advocate on the Algoma Citizens’ Reference Panel on Integrated Care.

Citizens’ Reference Panels are groups of community members that are brought together to represent the community at-large and collaborate on important policies or priorities. As we move towards our first Strategic Plan in March 2022, we convened the Algoma Citizens’ Reference Panel on Integrated Care to represent the people of Algoma in identifying guiding principles and priorities for our work in the upcoming years. Thirty-three individuals were chosen from across central, east, and north Algoma, coming from various backgrounds, of various ages, and with varying experience with health and social services. The panel came together virtually over three weekends to learn about our health system in Algoma, hear from patients, families, and caregivers with lived experience, and decide what our team should be focusing on in the upcoming years.

Screenshot from Citizens' Reference Panel Zoom Meeting
The Algoma Citizens' Reference Panel on Integrated Care met over three weekends to discuss guiding principles and priorities for the Algoma Ontario Health Team.

“There was a really great cross section of citizens involved in this process,” said panel member David de Geus. “People with so many experiences, either working in healthcare, receiving care themselves, or advocating for people who are receiving care. I don’t know that healthcare practitioners hear that level of feedback and engagement from a group like this on a regular basis.”

At the culmination of their time together, the panel presented us with a final report document housing key opportunities and recommendations across the following seven areas:

· Collaboration across health and social services

· Equitable access to services

· Recruitment and development

· Sharing of health information between providers and patients

· Rebuilding trust in the health system

· Health literacy and system navigation

· Mental health and addictions

When asked if he felt heard throughout the process, David said “I think so, but really being heard goes beyond the report; it becomes real through seeing the implementation of the recommendations throughout the health system in Algoma. It’s almost too early to ask the question. There are many milestones ahead to demonstrate that the panel has been heard. There’s a lot of work to do.”

It will take our collective efforts, not just within the OHT but across Algoma, to start to build out the panel’s recommendations to improve care for all. These next few months are going to be critical as we identify work that is already underway to address these seven themes, and areas where significant improvement needs to take place. Within the AOHT, we have already used the panel’s guidance to inform our Patient, Family, and Caregiver Partnership and Engagement Strategy and will soon be using it to build the foundation of our Strategic Plan.

“I felt a great sense of responsibility being a member of the Citizens’ Reference Panel,” said panel member Debbie Shamas. “Listening to panel members from each community brought to light the many needs that were similar but also highlighted the unique needs of each. An overwhelming theme that emerged from each community was the difficulty in accessing adequate care.”

We sincerely commend and thank all 33 Citizens’ Reference Panel participants for their hard work and commitment. We also want to thank the AOHT’s Engagement Working Group who helped to plan for the Citizens’ Reference Panel, the many health and social service experts and community members who engaged with the panel, and members of the OHT who are already championing this report within their organizations and across Algoma.

This work has been an exciting and innovative step in our journey towards a health system that is built both by and for the people of Algoma. We hope that you will enjoy reading the panel’s final report and share widely so that we may all benefit from the voices of the communities we serve. As you review the panel’s deliberations, we invite you to reflect on ways we can all incorporate the guiding principles and recommendations to support continued growth in health and social services in our work, our community, and across Algoma.

Every OHT member is involved in considering the recommendations and identifying ways in which they align with their work. To discuss strategic planning, please contact Cassandra Lepore at


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