Experience Exchange: OCAN Blended training at CMHA Peel Dufferin

A blended approach to OCAN training aims to improve the quality of client information collected in OCAN  and to improve how staff use this information in their practice to support clients. Annalisa Rasmussen, Clinical Program Manager and OCAN Lead at Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Peel Dufferin, discussed her organization’s approach to blended training at a recent virtual train-the-trainer session hosted by EENet and Ontario Health. Annalisa focused on her organization’s training strategies to support the quality of OCANs completed by staff.  Here are highlights from this presentation in her own words, edited for clarity and length.

Recovery-based assessment training

In our region, everything starts with recovery-based assessments. This is a mandatory, half-day training that we offer at our organization for all clinical staff regardless of the clinical tools they use. At CMHA Peel Dufferin, like many other organizations, we don’t only use the OCAN. We use various tools for clinical assessment (such as the GAINs tool) and we use recovery-based assessment training to lay the foundation with staff in how they gather information, how they assess clients’ needs, and how they use that information to support treatment planning.

Within our recovery-based assessments training, we promote the belief that each client has the potential for recovery. It’s also reflective of our commitment to a client-centred approach to care and to emphasize the client’s strengths and their capacity for self-determination and autonomy in their own life.

In completing these assessments, we work in partnership with clients to help them gain autonomy and independence and really highlight client participation in care planning. It’s important that they identify their own priorities and how they want to address their goals, so that the plan is meaningful to them and that they feel engaged and invested in their own recovery.

Even with recovery-based assessments, we hear about challenges from staff around completing the OCAN. Some of the challenges we’ve heard from staff related to completing the OCAN include the following:

In our training, we try to highlight the value of the OCAN instrument and of other clinical assessment instruments. We emphasize that completing the OCAN with the client really gives the client the opportunity to raise the issues that are important to them and what’s critical in their life. The OCAN reassessment can also capture the client’s progress over time, which has been beneficial for both the staff and the client, and it helps to highlight for the staff the work that they have been able to complete with the client over time by comparing assessments.

OCAN assessments also inform service planning and level of care for a client and it’s a snapshot in time as to what the client needs right now and what’s important to them right now. In terms of building rapport, we see completing the OCAN as part of that rapport building. OCAN assessments also contribute to quality improvement planning overall when we can see client progress, what is of greatest need for clients and what services have been of most value. It can also help our organization plan programs and work with our community partners to understand what clients need most.

The OCAN committee at CMHA Peel Dufferin

In order to support clinical staff at CMHA Peel Dufferin in this work, specifically around the OCAN, we have an OCAN committee. This group meets monthly and has representation from all the programs within the agency that use the OCAN tool. Committee members are clinical staff who use the OCAN with their clients. We think of them as champions for the OCAN within their teams and across the organization and they play a critical function in implementing the OCAN and supporting clinical staff in completing it effectively and efficiently.

OCAN committee members support their colleagues in the clinical and administrative aspects of completing the OCAN—how to have these conversations with clients regarding the different domains, how to interpret the results, what to think about when completing it and using the data. But they also support staff administratively, focusing on how to document things and how to prioritize things in the system.

Committee members also relay updates to the OCAN committee as we’re working on different quality improvement projects and they can bring information back to their teams as changes are made to the OCAN training. They also collect feedback from their teams and relay it back to the committee and the leadership team so we understand what are the challenges the team is facing or what is working really well and how we can leverage those experiences.

The committee members also facilitate all of the OCAN training within the organization. They’re able to use their personal experience with the OCAN to support their colleagues, most of whom are new to the organization and may not have any experience with the OCAN. They also contribute to the annual work plan, which supports the organizational and strategic goals around OCAN, such as completion rates, including completion of self-OCANs among clients.

The committee is supported by a clinical manager and a program assistant. The team has administrative support to keep track of meeting minutes, develop some of the training materials, and register new staff to the trainings, so that the champions can focus on the clinical work and supporting their colleagues and clients.

Blended training components

Ontario Health eLearning OCAN Course

In addition to the recovery-based training, the OCAN committee also supports staff completion of the self-directed eLearning OCAN modules offered by Ontario Health. All new staff are required to complete this training during their probation period. Staff are also able to return to these modules throughout their tenure at our organization if they feel they need a refresher or if they are returning from an extended leave, such as maternity or educational leave.

Learning Lab

Once new staff have completed the eLearning modules, we also offer a live learning lab. This is a bi-monthly, in person or virtually training, co-facilitated by two OCAN champions,. During the learning lab, the facilitators lead participants through a review of frequently asked questions that often come up after people have completed the eLearning modules as well as common mistakes. They also show participants how to pull reports through our organization’s software, CRMS, to look at OCANs over time. This is one of the pieces that often takes the longest for staff to get a handle of, so a lot of time is spent on this during the learning lab.

Facilitators also share tips and tricks to help staff engage clients in completing the OCAN, and ways to save time when entering the information into the system. As part of the live learning lab we also do a case study, where participants complete a practice OCAN as a group using a fictional client that the champions created. They then use this fictional assessment together to determine how the fictional client is presenting, how that might be reflected in the OCAN, and how that information might be used in treatment and support planning.

Peer support staff supporting each other

The OCAN committee also offers a peer support component. New staff can shadow more experienced staff when they’re completing OCANs at intake, at reassessment, or at discharge. They’re also able to receive ongoing support and mentorship from a champion. Staff will often seek out a champion on their team independently to ask for support or to review an OCAN, or a manager might suggest to a staff member that they connect with a champion on their team if they see that they are struggling with a clinical or an administrative aspect of the OCAN. This support is available to staff throughout their tenure with the organization.

 “Receiving OCAN training really provided me the tools to navigate OCANs with confidence. It helped me, not only, to complete OCANs more effectively and efficiently, but also to better understand the content involved in one, the purpose for each aspect of the assessment, the various ways in which the assessment is used, and how it provides insight on both an organizational and direct service level. Training also taught me how to get the most out of OCANs by utilizing the various reports we can produce through CRMS to give us numerous valuable representations of our work, and of clients’ progress with the 24 domains of the OCAN and the changing nature of met versus unmet needs that can help inform our work and conversations with clients.” CMHA Peel Dufferin staff member


We feel quite strongly that this has been an effective way to support staff in orienting to the OCAN and building confidence in using this assessment instrument so that they’re able to better support clients and enhance clinical work across the organization. Leadership at CMHA Peel Dufferin is truly grateful for all of the hard work and commitment that the champions put in to support OCAN use across the organization.

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