As Ontario’s hospitals grapple with staff shortages, temporary emergency room closures and surgical backlogs, the province has announced a suite of changes in an effort to help stabilize the health-care system – although it maintains patients will not have to pay out of pocket for any of them. Here’s a look at some of the measures:
SURGERIES AT PRIVATE CLINICS
The province says it will increase the number of publicly covered surgeries performed at private clinics, which Health Minister Sylvia Jones says can help take some pressure off hospitals by reducing the surgical backlog.
Jones did not directly answer a question about whether she would consider allowing more private clinics to operate in Ontario.
She said the province is exploring a system to distribute high-demand surgeries among all available surgeons.
Staff will not be pulled out of the public and into the private system, said Ontario Health CEO Matt Anderson.
The government did not say which surgeries would be delivered in private clinics or which clinics will offer these surgeries.
LONG-TERM CARE CHANGES
In another effort to ease the pressure on hospitals, the province introduced legislation Thursday to be able to send patients waiting for long-term care beds to a nursing home not of their choosing while they wait for their preferred home.
Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra said the legislation will “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 province will also do away with 300 long-term care beds set aside for COVID-19 isolation by the end of this summer, with up to 1,000 more within six months.
Calandra said priority waitlists will not be affected by the changes and no one will be kicked out of long-term care homes.
EXPANDING NON-EMERGENCY PARAMEDIC SERVICES
The province will expand a pilot project that allows paramedics to avoid taking patients to the emergency department on every call.
The program allows paramedics to treat patients at home or take them to a different care centre.
The first phase of the paramedic pilot project was launched in 2020 with programs in more than 40 municipalities that allow paramedics to take patients somewhere other than an emergency room, such as a mental health facility, or to treat them on scene.
Initial results show patients are accessing care 17 times more quickly and 94 percent didn’t go to the ER in the few days following care, Jones said.
NURSES WORKING IN MULTIPLE HOSPITALS
The province will temporarily cover the costs of applications, examination and registration fees for internationally trained and retired nurses.
Ontario also says it will modify a program that will allow nurses and nurse practitioners to be deployed full-time across multiple hospitals.
RURAL AND NORTHERN EMERGENCY DEPARTMENTS
The province will also launch a new peer-to-peer physician to provide real-time support and coaching from experienced emergency physicians to help doctors deal with patients in rural emergency departments. It will begin in five hospitals, before being rolled out in up to 37 small and rural hospitals across the province.
The government is working with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to expedite the registration process for those who want to work in northern and rural emergency departments.
By Liam Casey