Health Medical Officer Dr. Kit Young-Hoon said the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) will prioritize improving mental health, wellness and addiction over the next four years.
In the first year of their strategic plan, NWHU’s goals were to produce mental health and population health reports, complete reports and inventories of local services for child and adolescent mental health, develop action plans based on findings, and support the development and implementation of harm reduction programs.
In the second to fourth years of the plan, NWHU will implement an updated mental health and well-being strategy, and will develop and implement programs based on the report.
“There are a variety of different programs that improve the mental health of children and adolescents. We want to carry out a full review of the program, looking for gaps and urgent needs, and assessing what additional interventions or enhancements are appropriate,” Young Hoon said at the annual general meeting of the Rain River District Municipal Association on Jan. 14, 2023.
As part of the strategic direction for programs and services, NWHU will focus on collaboration and relationships with community partners. It will continue to contribute to population health and equity lenses by providing detailed reports and through partnerships with Indigenous peoples health systems and services.
“I want to focus on public health education and provide appropriate reporting that exceeds our population and partner agencies so that I share that information appropriately. So we are all working on accurate information about the mental health of the population,” said Young Hoon.
He added that they had learned during the pandemic that ongoing communication was key, both internally and externally. Focusing on effective communication also ensures that the general public and partner institutions are aware of public health issues so that community needs can be met.
“Besides that [there will be a] a client equity lens for all of our population reports, in fact, if you look at things some of these factors are determined by poverty, income, educational level, and more.
Over the four years of the strategic plan, NWHU aims to participate in committees and coalitions on Indigenous peoples’ health systems, as appropriate. “It is important to work closely with our Indigenous partners and institutions to ensure a strong public health system,” said Young Hoon.
The final strategy focuses on agency development. NWHU wants to develop creative and innovative approaches to support staff and strengthen agency resilience, responsiveness and capacity.
Young Hoon said that the pressure of human resource challenges, unlike many other organizations, forced them to create new strategies to prepare for recruitment, employee turnover, and potential knowledge gaps.
“Our employees have to be tough. And they have proven over the past few years how tough they are,” said Young Hoon, adding that they also needed to ensure that the pressure and demands on their employees were adequate.
“To do that, we want to add some competency, training and staff development, so they can navigate their way.”
In 2022, NWHU is hiring a consultant to conduct an employee health survey that will assist with the development of the organization’s human resources strategy. Since then, NWHU restarted their natural health committee with the task of ensuring that staff feel safe and protected in the workplace.
Strategic priorities were identified after a data collection period between February and April in 2022. Young Hoon said that to their surprise, their online survey received responses from over 1,100 people from across different stakeholder groups.
“That’s actually quite an overwhelming response. So it’s very encouraging to see that the public as well as our stakeholders, our partners, our board of directors and staff are very excited to put that new strategic planning forward,” he said.
None of the key findings uncovered through the focus groups and surveys came as a surprise, said Young Hoon, who added that the NWHU had been talking about the health of the population.
Key performance indicators will be included in the monitoring and evaluation framework to be developed later this year.
“This plan will be reported periodically to ensure NWHU’s work contributes to the goals set. We thank everyone who contributed to this plan – you have played a part in making our region a healthier place to live.”