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Dr. Katie Bingham
Dr. Katie BinghamAcross the region and the province, an increasingly aging population is causing demand for geriatric health care services to balloon. Against that background, Waypoint has identified advancing the care of older adults as a key clinical priority.

Supported by Waypoint, North Simcoe Muskoka Specialized Geriatric Services (NSM SGS) is a hospital- and community-based organization helping frail older adults and their caregivers. These individuals can have multiple chronic medical conditions, as well as geriatric syndromes like dementia or depression.

Led by Director Sandra Easson-Bruno, NSM SGS staff provide short-term support to more complex cases, especially those cases needing help from many different types of health care professionals. The team has expertise in geriatric medicine and psychiatry, and is skilled in assessing and managing conditions affecting older adults.

A crucial member of the team is geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Katie Bingham. As NSM SGS physician lead since 2022, she helps craft strategies for the provision of compassionate and patient-centred care, and also networks with partner organizations on service delivery and shared priorities.

“Our focus is developing a more integrated system of care for older adults,” she said. “I enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of geriatric mental health — the complexities of aging and its effect on health and brain health.”

The work of NSM SGS is linked with better outcomes for frail older adults, their caregivers and the health system, including fewer avoidable emergency department visits and hospital admissions, an increase in aging at home and a decrease in premature placement in long-term care.

Dr. Bingham joined Waypoint full-time on June 3, but has been part of the NSM SGS team since 2020. She began working with various organizations in the region in 2015 while studying for her PhD from the University of Toronto, which she completed in 2018. She earlier attended her hometown University of Ottawa and Western University.

Initially hired to carry out clinical work, her position has evolved to include a mix of front-line work, leadership activities and research. She also chairs the Senior Friendly Care Committee.

“I wanted my work to align so that my research work wasn’t completely separate from my clinical and administrative work, so I spoke with the leadership at Waypoint and they were supportive and helpful in creating a portfolio that would work for me,” she said. “I’ve been lucky to be able to do that.”

Dr. Bingham said it’s gratifying to make a difference in people’s quality of life. One memorable instance involved a woman with Lewy body dementia, a condition that can include both cognitive impairment and psychotic symptoms like delusions and hallucinations. She had started to believe her husband of 60-plus years was an intruder in the house. Even though the illness is progressive, they were able to treat the woman’s symptoms with medication, behavioural supports and strategies for the husband to employ.

“And her husband said, ‘Oh, I have my wife back,’” Dr. Bingham recalled. “It was a very rewarding outcome. And it goes to show that, just because somebody does have a condition like dementia, that doesn’t mean there’s not room to improve.”

Another happy story, she said, involves a three-year, $750,000 grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to study the Behaviour Support Agent (BSA) clinical program, which trains hospital staff across the region to support people under their care with dementia and/or behavioural challenges. BSAs have improved care and reduced barriers that prevented these patients from being discharged from hospital. The grant will allow NSM SGS to assess the effectiveness of the program, with an eye toward scaling it to other hospitals.