Aug 18, 2022
By Bob Komsic
Increasing publicly covered surgeries performed at private clinics, waiving the exam and registration fees for internationally trained nurses, and sending patients waiting for a long-term care bed to a home not of their choosing are among the steps Ontario is planning in its efforts to stabilize the health-care system.
Health Minister Sylvia Jones announced the plan Thursday that aims to hire more health professionals, free up hospital beds and reduce surgical wait lists. The plan comes as nursing staff shortages have seen emergency departments across the province close throughout the summer for hours or days at a time.
The document indicates more of a role for privately delivered but publicly covered services, with the government saying it will invest more to increase surgeries in pediatric hospitals and existing private clinics covered by OHIP. It is also considering options for further increasing surgical capacity by increasing the number of those procedures performed at “independent health facilities.”
Jones said Ontario needs to be “bold, innovative and creative” when looking for ways to improve the health system.
“There are some who will fight for the status quo no matter what,” she said at a press conference announcing the plan.
“They’re ideologically opposed to change or improvements. We won’t accept that. We can’t accept that. People want better health care.”
Jones did not directly answer a question about whether she would consider allowing more private clinics in Ontario.
“Health care will continue to be provided to the people of Ontario through the use of your OHIP card,” she said.
“We see the value of having some of those independent health facilities that have existed in the province of Ontario for literally decades to take some of the pressure off of our health-care partners and many of those independent health facilities have arrangements and work directly with their local community hospital.”
Cathryn Hoy, president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, slammed the plan to increase services in private clinics.
“This is a blatant move that will line the pockets of investors, nothing more,” she said in a statement. “The evidence is clear: health-care privatization provides worse health outcomes to our patients, and has much higher overhead costs which will be paid by taxpayers. Ontario is deep-diving into privatization that will only benefit shareholders.”
Hoy called it “puzzling” that the plan also outlines steps to support emergency department doctors, but not nurses.
“Dozens of emergency departments were closed over the past few weeks due to a shortage of nurses,” Hoy wrote.
“The government missed a huge opportunity here to bolster nurse compensation as a key to retention and recruitment to curb additional closures.”
The plan includes modifying a program that can deploy nurses full-time across multiple hospitals in a region, and expanding a program for mid-to-late career or retired nurses to mentor newer nurses.
The province will temporarily cover the exam, application and registration fees for internationally trained and retired nurses, saving them up to $1,500, and plans to invest up to $57.6 million over three years to increase the number of nurse practitioners working in long-term care homes.
Ontario is also extending a program that sees physicians from across the province help staff hospitals in northern and rural communities, launching a new program to provide support and coaching from emergency physicians to rural emergency departments, as well as introducing a new program that links physician residents with physicians in northern and rural emergency departments.
In long-term care, the government plans to introduce legislation today that will allow patients awaiting a bed to be transferred to a “temporary” home while they await space in their preferred home.
“Ultimately, no, we are not going to be forcing anybody out of a home,” Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra said.
“The changes do allow us to continue that conversation to explain to somebody who is in a hospital why their needs can be met in a long-term care home.”
The government is also planning to take 300 beds that had been used for COVID-19 isolation and make them available for people on wait lists. It says there is a potential to do that with 1,000 more beds within six months.
(The Canadian Press)