Equity is enshrined in the Canada Health Act yet Northern Ontario is still fighting for the level of health care that the rest of the province takes for granted. Our health care system, including access to mental health care services and culturally appropriate care, is failing Northern Ontario.
Northern Ontarians often experience limited availability and access to primary health care, specialists, hospitals, community services, and supports. The barriers between people and the care they need mean that far too often Ontarians go without care. Northern Ontarians have shorter expected life spans than the average Ontarian and are far more likely to die prematurely. Health care access plays a major role in shaping this reality.
Across Ontario, the demand for physical and mental health care services, including long-term care, has overtaken capacity and provincial funding has not kept up. We have to innovate and continuously seek out efficiencies. We also have to stop asking Northern Ontario health care providers to do more with less. The provincial government must play a greater role in tackling the root causes of poor health like housing, food, and income security. There are specific health care improvements we commit to making in 2022.
Our plan will:
Restore provincial cuts to long-term care. The Conservatice government’s planned cuts to long-term care will make it impossible to retain staff and improve the condition of long-term care homes in desperate need of repair. The cuts have been pushed back until later in this government’s term but will leave holes in budgets across the province. We will reverse cuts to long-term care and ensure our loved ones in long-term care and those who care for them are receiving the provincial support they deserve.
We also know that municipalities across Northern Ontario need more support. About one in five beds in Northern Ontario is in a municipal home and it is unsustainable for municipalities to continue to deliver more care with less money. We are committed to reviewing the funding formula and increasing funding to municipalities to support their efforts in long-term care.
Increase the Northern Health Travel Grant and reduce processing time. The Northern Health Travel Grant program was implemented due to the challenges of accessing health care services in northern Ontario. However, the reimbursement rates are far below the costs of travel and patients are waiting too long for the Ministry to process reimbursements. We will ensure that reimbursement amounts are tied to inflation, that reimbursement times are reduced to four weeks, and that Ontarians have the option to submit a claim online.
Improve access to affordable mental health care. Every Ontarian should have the right to access mental health care. But today, in many parts of Northern Ontario, it’s impossible to find any local help at all. Residents have limited options for mental health services, and they are often required to travel to urban centers in southern regions of the province. And because care is so hard to access and very expensive even if you can get to it, many avoid care altogether, either going untreated or undiagnosed. We will immediately provide stable funding for mental health service providers working in remote areas, address the chronic service gaps in youth addictions, psychotherapy, and supportive housing, support new online mental health support services like Big White Wall, and expand the role of telemedicine where appropriate.
Empower municipalities to build transit invest in Northern Ontario roads. Travel is critical to accessing health care in Northern Ontario. In addition to making necessary investments in roads, including the twinning of Highway 69 and Highway 17, we will increase Ontario Gas Tax Fund transfer from 2 cents to 6 cents a litre resulting in $800 million per year for public transit expansion. An additional $30 million over 4 years to the Community Transportation Grant Program will mean more money for areas that are underserved by public transit. Finally, recognizing that small, rural and northern communities also need funding for critical transportation projects, we will increase the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund by $100 million annually.
Protect and respect our nurses and personal support workers. Across northern and rural Ontario, communities are struggling to recruit and retain qualified staff such as nurses and personal support workers. Frontline staff are being asked to do more with less and are experiencing higher levels of physical violence than ever before. Chronically understaffed, underfunded, and overworked, frontline staff, who deliver care to our most vulnerable, are at a breaking point. We are committed to working with the sector to ensure that a human resources strategy includes improvements in safety, in pay, and in stable funding for recruitment and retention. Our long-term care homes and home care services depend on a provincial partner that prioritizes the needs of health care workers.
Create a single, accountable point of accountability within the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) for rural, remote, and northern health. Northern Ontario communities need to know who is accountable in government for their level of health care services, including the required expansion of mental health services. An accessible and accountable team within the Ministry will be put in place to work with the Minister and the Premier’s Office on improving Northern Ontario health care access.
Expand health resources and autonomy for Indigenous communities. Ontario must be actively collaborating with partners in creating new health systems for First Nations communities that will be led, planned, and delivered by First Nations themselves. By working with Political Territorial Organizations and First Nations partners, we will honour and build upon Ontario’s First Nations Health Action Plan and continue to invest in lasting Indigenous-led solutions.
Increase funding for Community Health Centres and other community-led organizations providing a range of health services. Well-funded local health care delivery is critical for Northern Ontarians. Increasing funding and resources for community health care service providers will mean more help on the ground where people need it most.