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Ottawa’s new health care hub aims to prevent work stress – and overburdened emergency units

The clinical team wants to manage issues like burnout before they begin

A woman sitting in front of a laptop at work rests her head on her hand

Sanjeev Kumar, president and chief visionary officer of the Harley Street Healthcare Group (HSHG or the HARLEY), may not be a clinician, but when he decided to open a state-of-the-art wellness clinic in Ottawa he performed an examination of the city’s healthcare system.

What he saw was an overburdened acute-care system that could be helped by introducing preventative medicine and follow-up care to the community.

“The healthcare system in Canada has reached a crossroads,“ said Kumar. “It’s become a victim of its own success.”

What he means is modern healthcare is so good at saving lives, patients who survive may not be getting enough follow-up care.

“There is a serious strain on the public health system around the world, not just in Canada,” said Kumar. “We see it as a tremendous opportunity to be that helping hand by developing capacity for the public health system.”

The HARLEY’s business model complements the public system by acting as a buffer. By focusing on preventative medicine, wellness and follow-up care, their goal is to keep people out of the hospital and the city’s overburdened emergency units.

The benefits of preventative medicine

One key area of interest for the new care centre will be mental health.

Dr. Balu Pitchiah is a psychiatrist based in the Harley’s London clinic in the United Kingdom, and is very keen to bring the HARLEY’s model for preventive mental health care to Ottawa.

The HARLEY believes prevention is the best approach because it helps patients while protecting our overburdened health system.

The goal of preventative medicine is to help people become aware of their personal health risks before they become big problems. For example, if you know addiction runs in your family, you can develop stress management skills through interventions like meditation and mindfulness rather than self-medicating with alcohol.

Part of the plan is raising awareness with the public about the three levels of mental health prevention. The first level of prevention is mental health hygiene or mind maintenance. The second is noticing when you feel a bit off and should get screened, and the third is when you have a clear problem and need specialized care.

The HARLEY’s services focus on the first and second stages. They use their “burnout cheat sheet” to help people identify the warning signs and causes of burnout, and to help workplaces prevent burnout in their employees.

They’ll also be using wearable devices to monitor people’s health. “We can take your pulse, ECG, temperature, and skin conductance. The device can also double as a phone, whether you need an SOS button or we need to call the patient,” said Pitchiah. “With data we can make a very informed judgment without you having to tell me all the details of your private life.”

Amita Kochar, the CEO of HSHG Canada, is especially passionate about how these tools can help parents, as well as those struggling to find work-life balance.

A focus on Ottawa’s front-line staff

The HARLEY’s services can’t come soon enough for Ottawa’s health care professionals.

This is another area where Kochar is investing a good deal of the centre’s resources. “Supporting health care workers is a priority for us,” she said. “We need to care for the carers.”

“The pandemic has stretched healthcare workers to their maximum,” said Pitchiah. “Without a healthy workforce, you can’t get healthy outcomes for patients.”

That’s why the HARLEY is initially prioritizing their services with first responders like nurses, firefighters and EMTs while also partnering with SELC College, a post-secondary institution in Vancouver, BC.,  to educate local healthcare workers in preventative medicine.

Pitchiah’s hope is that once healthcare professionals experience preventative medicine, they’ll see the value and share their knowledge with the community, encouraging people to come forward earlier.

Their partnership with SELC is a critical piece of the puzzle. The goal is to create a workforce that identifies mental health issues easily, while teaching them how to address them.

“We’re all susceptible to mental health issues, because we all have a mind,” said Pitchiah. “But how do we prevent complications so that we live a quality life?

“You have a beautiful mind,” he added. “Are you looking after it?”