Integrated care and other acute mental health supports make a difference during critical time

By Dr. Nadiya Sunderji, Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care President and CEO

Waypoint’s enhanced focus on integrated physical and mental health care was put to the test these last years and the results have been making a difference not only for patients and families, but for the health care system as a whole. With improved physical healthcare capabilities ‘in house’, we have been able to significantly reduce patient transfers from our psychiatric hospital to acute hospitals at this critical time of bed pressures, staffing challenges and surgical backlogs.

Another benefit of this commitment to growing our team of family physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners and maximizing physical healthcare, is that we are able to move patients from emergency departments to Waypoint faster. Our integrated care focus also includes working with primary care and other partners to support people better in the community so they remain well and don’t need to return to hospital. We’ve also expanded ECT services, launched a new urgent outpatient psychiatric consultation service, and throughout the pandemic have operated as many as 25 extra acute mental health beds, with 14 additional beds currently above our usual 20 for a total of 34. We hope to make these additional beds permanent and include more psychiatric intensive care unit level support, given the rising acuity and complexity of mental health patients needing admission.

Dr. Rebecca (Becky) Van Iersel joined Waypoint last June to replace Dr. Kevin Young as the hospital’s Medical Director, Integrated Care with Dr. Young moving into the VP of Medical Affairs and Chief of Staff role when I became President and CEO. Dr. Young joined Waypoint in 2017 to develop the program and was also the physician lead for the North Simcoe/Muskoka Specialized Geriatrics Services Program, a program Waypoint leads that is intensely focused on integrated physical and mental health care for seniors.  Van Iersel is now leading the team of family physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners who work along-side our team of psychiatrists and clinical staff. She is a fantastic addition to Waypoint and her unique clinical and leadership experience with a health systems lens is helping to move forward the great work Dr. Young started over the past few years. She previously held the position of Chief of the Department of Family Medicine at Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital and served as the North Simcoe Muskoka Local Health Integration Network’s Physician Lead for Clinical Planning and System Integration and Vice-President, Clinical.

What helped draw Dr. Van Iersel to Waypoint was the hospital’s innovative approach to integrated physical and psychiatric care including recruiting and training physician assistants. We have also made investments in new equipment for patients to receive care within our walls reducing the need to transport patients to the local hospital, saving needed acute hospital beds for other patients.

Dr. Van Iersel has an interesting history having grown up in Kathmandu, Nepal, an experience that she says was quite formative as she witnessed first-hand what it meant to have little access to healthcare and the incredible stress it puts on people. Having also worked as a family physician in an acute mental health unit she sees the value in being able to look after physical health care needs that often co-occur when people are experiencing severe mental illness. Individuals living with major mental illness are more likely to experience many significant medical conditions and less likely to access and receive good preventative care. Waypoint is continuously looking at quality improvement and meeting patients where they are at in their health care journey. Some examples:

  • Working with inpatients before they leave the hospital and with community partners on transitional care plans is critical work we do to support people to remain well in the community and prevent the need for repeat ED visits and hospitalizations.
  • Tailoring services to support the different clinical units and patient populations served at Waypoint, for example the 34 acute mental health beds and the Horizon Program serving seniors with complex needs often require more support.
  • Collaboratively developing integrated care pathways with partners that will support family physicians managing patients in their offices, and integrate hospital and community services as a part of our Innovative Model Central Ontario Health Team for Specialized Populations.
  • Mentoring and developing clinical team members in their physical health skills with Waypoint’s Professional Practice team and leaders.

Since the pandemic began, Waypoint has been stepping up its support. Dr. Van Iersel’s leadership, the enhancements to integrated care, and our focus on system collaboration and quality improvement will continue to help patients and support hospital and health care system partners during these critical times. Every crisis brings opportunity, and we aren’t letting this one go to waste.



The Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care is a Member of Research Canada: An Alliance for Health Discovery.
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