New online referral program for people seeking outpatient services

for mental health, case management, housing, and chronic pain management

By Kim Callaghan, Director of Communications, Engagement & Client Relations, St. Joseph’s Care Group - December 13, 2017

Thunder Bay and the entire Northwest region gained a new online referral program for people who need access to outpatient mental health, housing, case management and chronic pain management services. Access Point Northwest uses technology and strong partnerships to streamline referrals – it’s entirely dedicated to helping people find the services they need.

With resources and implementation support provided by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Access Point Northwest is a collaborative effort between Alpha Court, the Canadian Mental Health Association - Thunder Bay Branch, St. Joseph’s Care Group and Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

Replacing an existing paper-based system of referral, Access Point Northwest offers a simplified, online entry point for services.


Access Point Northwest was recently launched. It is a new online referral program for people who need access to outpatient mental health, housing, case management and chronic pain management services.

“Access Point Northwest removes guesswork and ensures patients access the right care at the right time. This collaboration is one way we are improving experiences for patients,” says Jean Bartkowiak, President & CEO, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and CEO, Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute.

The key to success is keeping it easy for the client and referent.  The online system is easy to use and can be accessed at any time.  Referrals are matched to the correct provider, with coordinators who will help guide clients to the right resources by obtaining additional information. The goal is to allow for easy data collection, helping people to better navigate their way through the system.

“The common phrase is that there is ‘no wrong door’ and that’s what we’re aiming for – if you come to Access Point Northwest it’s never the wrong door. If the partner services don’t meet your needs, we will go the extra mile to find the right service,” says Nicole Latour, Executive Director, Alpha Court Community Mental Health and Addictions Services.

"Access Point Northwest is the first of its kind to support the outpatient referral process for clients and primary care providers in Northwestern Ontario," said Sharon Pitawanakwat, Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Thunder Bay. "This shared model has been successfully implemented by CMHA branches in other areas in Ontario, and we look forward to reaping similar benefits to access and care."

In fact, the program here was modelled off of Toronto’s Access Point.  To meet the identified needs of the people of Northwestern Ontario, Access Point Northwest was enhanced to include mental health outpatient and chronic pain management referrals.  Now Toronto’s Access Point is looking at adopting some of the new innovations to the program that were developed here in the Northwest.  

“The developer of the program adapted it to our programs and our criteria to ensure entry into service is accessible, timely, and equitable,” Latour says.  “Coordinated access provides people with a clear pathway to care and is designed to match identified need with the appropriate level of service.”

Nearly 30 agencies participated in pre-launch testing, including family health teams and medical clinics. 

“Partnership is something that we do well in Northwestern Ontario, challenging ourselves to change the way that we work to provide care centred around the needs of our clients,” says Tracy Buckler, President & CEO, St. Joseph’s Care Group.  “Not only does it make it easier for clients and care providers to connect with the right services more quickly, but it also gives us more information on referral patterns, diagnostic categories and demographic information to identify gaps and enhance care.”

With nearly 400 referrals in the system at the time of launch, Access Point Northwest program is fully up and running. Learn more at

< back to articles