By LEN GILLIS
In the past 20 years, Sudbury has evolved into northeastern Ontario’s de facto regional health-care hub. That has happened in part with the formation of the LHIN system (Local Health Integration Networks), which was created in the mid-2000s to oversee the planning and funding of health services in 14 distinct regions of Ontario.
While other major cities across the north have well-established hospitals, Sudbury has become the focal point for health care with the largest hospital, Health Sciences North (HSN), which is also the venue for the Northeast Cancer Centre, the Health Sciences North Research Institute, the Labelle Learning and Innovation Centre (still under construction), and the plan for the NEO Kids treatment centre.
Dr. Andreas Kumar, a cardiologist with HSN and an assistant professor at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), predicts HSN will become even more important in its role of serving the needs of Northern Ontario, especially in terms of cardiac care.
He said heart disease is the No. 1 or No. 2 killer in Northern Ontario.
“I see Sudbury expanding in terms of cardiovascular care. We recruited seven new cardiologists in the last two years, and they’re all outstanding experts, some of them with international recognition for the excellent work they have done,” says Kumar.
“We are planning to grow the cardiovascular department and grow the research and become a centre of excellence that can work eye-to-eye with the great centres in Toronto and Ottawa.”
Dr. Sarita Verma, the dean at NOSM, says, “I think the future looks very bright for Sudbury’s health care. Not only will there be an adequate and appropriate number of physicians it will mean other types of providers as well such as nurse anesthesiologists and some specialists like rheumatologists and respirologists but also personal support workers, physician assistants and others.”
The ongoing partnership between HSN and the NOSM will mean technology will continue to improve with things such as robotics and artificial intelligence, all directed to meeting health-care needs. In the not so distant future, patients will be greeted in the emergency room by a machine that will automatically take their blood sample, she predicts.
Universal health care will continue to be expensive, but Verma says she thinks Canadians are OK with that.
“Canadians are so committed to their well-being that I don’t anticipate that they will ever stop caring about their magnificent and internationally renowned health-care system.
“I think also there are signs from both the provincial and federal government to invest in research and technology. I think all governments, including the government of Ontario, recognize there is a need for doing business differently.
“They have introduced the concept of Ontario Health Teams, something that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. They have reformed primary care in Ontario which has had a huge impact on the well-being of people,” she adds.
As for needs of an aging population, Verma says technology should go a long way to cut down on wait times and give health-care providers more time to spend with patients.
People are also more attuned to their own personal health and living a healthier lifestyle, and this should reduce some of the demands for care, she says.
“Hopefully we will have lower cardiac disease and better living, healthier living with local foods and good nutrition based on the Food Guide. But also exercise, an active society; I expect that people will be less sedentary and more engaged in taking care of themselves.”
She also hopes for a major reduction in mental health issues and addictions, “which I think is a major cause for the drain on health care in the city now.”
Kumar says personal health care will have to become a priority for Sudburians.
“I think one of the big things we do wrong in our society, is that we call this the health-care system, but really that is not what it is. Really what we have is a disease-detection and a disease-management system.
“What we need is a health maintenance system. We need to focus much more on maintenance and prevention.
“We need to have more awareness around cigarette smoking and drugs. We need better education for people and social support to help people lead better lifestyles.”
Designing a healthier city
More than 7.8 million Canadians 18 years and older are obese. Obesity increases the risk for premature death and chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.
It is possible to design healthier cities where people get more exercise because there are sidewalks for walking, accessible public transit, and bicycle lanes. As well, amenities such as shops and schools are located within walkable distances.
“All the infrastructure of the city has to change dramatically. I can tell you right now as a newcomer to Sudbury, the transportation system is not set up for me to get easily from the mall to the family doctor, or to the hospital or to the lab,” says Dr. Sarita Verma, the dean of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM).
“You have to redesign cities. Redesign for healthy cities, to encourage people to be ambulatory, to breathe in clean air, to reduce their weight, also to access good food, access to health care and to use public transportation and use infrastructure as a means to improving society and health. “
HSN cardiologist Dr. Andreas Kumar says more Sudburians need to get active and stay active.
“So if you talk about the city of Sudbury and where it could be in 20 to 25 years from now, I would hope that the roads would be mostly used for commercial purposes by electric vehicles and that people would be using their bicycles much more to commute,” says Kumar.
“We are lucky to have a lot of greenspaces in this city, but there are other cities that need more greenspaces where you have room for people to go outside and play. People need to be a lot more physically active.