BARRIE, ONT. -- Five local organizations are vowing to work together to make Barrie healthier over the next decade.

Representatives from the City of Barrie, County of Simcoe, Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and Barrie Police Services signed the new Barrie Health Accord in a virtual news conference Monday.

Mayor Jeff Lehman spearheaded the effort.

"Today is very much that critical first step towards a longer-term healthier community, and collaboration that I believe will benefit our residents for the longer term," Lehman said.

The accord aims to tackle the root causes of illness or unhealthy living through collaboration: nutrition, exercise, employment, housing, education, and poverty.

The 10-year strategy to address those issues is expected next year.

Dr. Charles Gardner, the medical officer of health with SMDHU, said the group might be seized with managing COVID-19 for a while.

For the mayor, the pandemic — as well as the opioid and homelessness epidemics — highlighted how health crises disproportionately affect some populations.

"They're creating, frankly, an unsustainable level of demand on all of our services," Lehman said.

That demand is a concern in a growing, ageing region and one that by at least one measure is less healthy than the provincial average.

Forty-five per cent of the residents of North Simcoe Muskoka have at least one chronic disease. One in five people has multiple chronic diseases, according to the president and CEO of RVH.

Janice Skot explains that hospitals are often full of patients in an acute stage of a chronic condition.

"If we could, really focus on assisting to prevent or delay the onset of chronic disease and really maintain a healthier lifestyle, we could see a reduction in those types of admissions," Skot said.

Her hope is that efforts to reduce chronic illness work, so RVH isn't overwhelmed even with a planned expansion.

Skot said she knows it's an approach that will take time. She thinks of the signing of the health accord as planting a seed.

"It will take root. I am convinced it will grow and flourish. And together, the fruit of our labour will be a healthier community," she said.