Renfrew County Virtual Triage and Assessment Centre: new, 24/7 pandemic health-care service for residents

When Kim Sell, a home care provider, was visiting a client in a retirement home, she noticed the individual’s wound had deteriorated and required follow-up.

Because the client doesn’t have a family physician, she contacted the Pembroke Regional Hospital about visiting the Emergency Department. That’s how Kim learned about the new Renfrew County Virtual Triage and Assessment Centre (RC VTAC) for residents of Renfrew County who have a health concern but either do not have a family physician or cannot access their usual family physician.

Kim called the toll-free number and the medical receptionist set up a telephone appointment with a family physician, who was able to deal with the problem over the phone.

“My client avoided an unnecessary Emergency Department visit, two taxi rides and many hours in a waiting room,” said Kim, Client Services Supervisor with Carefor Health and Community Services.

The RC VTAC was created at lightning speed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a joint effort between Family Health Teams, Community Health Centres, the County of Renfrew Paramedic Service, Renfrew County Hospitals and the Renfrew County and District Health Unit, with the support of Ontario Health East.

“In Renfrew County, many residents do not have access to a family physician. We knew the pandemic would only amplify this issue,” said Karen Simpson, Executive Director, Arnprior and District Family Health Team. “We have an impressive number of health-care providers and medical receptionists from across Renfrew County who have come together to ensure we can provide 24/7 care to all our residents. It’s the Ottawa Valley way.”

Through the RC VTAC, family physicians, nurse practitioners and community paramedics assess and manage health concerns (including COVID-19 concerns) in multiple ways depending on the individual’s needs. This includes:

  • Phone appointments
  • Video appointments
  • In-home assessments and diagnostic testing by community paramedics
  • Remote monitoring and alerting and if necessary, escalation to a designated team of physicians and allied health professionals for the management of sicker patients at home
  • Referral to other services including mental health support

“We now have the best local solution during the pandemic to deliver accessible primary care to all residents across our expansive, rural geography so we can reserve Emergency Department visits for true emergency care,” said Eric Hanna, President and CEO, Arnprior Regional Health.

The new service operates 24/7 and is covered by OHIP with a valid health card.

“This has been an excellent response to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Dr. Jonathan Fitzsimon, Chief of Medicine, Arnprior Regional Health. “We must slow the spread, protect our health-care professionals, and yet continue to provide care and advice for all residents of Renfrew County. The RC VTAC is helping enormously in our efforts to do this.”

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