Ontario Political Party Leaders Commit to Addressing Northern Health Care Shortages

Noushin Ziafati and Jessica Smith, The Canadian Press

Posted Saturday, May 28, 2022 6:48 a.m. EDT

Last updated Saturday, May 28, 2022 6:52 PM EDT

Ontario’s major political parties promise to hire more doctors and nurses and increase the number of seats at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine to meet the need for health care workers in the region – a problem that one hospital president says requires both immediate action and long-term solutions.

The region’s long-standing shortage of healthcare workers has prompted widespread calls for a significant increase in investment in the sector to address local shortages, often accompanied by warnings about the consequences of inaction on the issue.

Such shortages forced the Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital in Red Lake, Ont., to close its emergency room for 24 hours at some point in late March due to a shortage of local doctors able to work in the service.

Sue LeBeau, CEO of the hospital, said the 24-hour closure was “very difficult” for hospital staff and created “a feeling of anxiety” in the community of Red Lake, which recently experienced two wildfires. and floods.

“It was pretty terrifying, actually,” LeBeau said, noting there was a period of about five hours in which the hospital’s two ambulances were over 200 kilometers ferrying patients to a hospital. Other institution.

“It’s something that I think our staff and doctors are still struggling with.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it’s been clear for “some time” that northerners don’t have equitable access to health care, including doctors and nurses.

To address the issue, she said her party would immediately hire and recruit 300 doctors in northern Ontario, including 100 specialists and 40 mental health practitioners, and train more doctors and health professionals to work in the north by increasing the number of places and training opportunities. at NOSM University.

But Horwath said the province must also do more to attract healthcare workers — and their families — to live in northern Ontario by bolstering offerings in areas from schools to arts and recreation opportunities.

“We need to make sure that northern communities are places doctors want to bring their spouses and families to, and so making sure those communities have the offerings that will entice people to move there is a big part of that as well. our commitment,” she said in an interview in Mississauga, Ont.

Connecting to the community is a concern for Dr. Akila Whiley, 32, who trained in Toronto, moved to Red Lake in July 2020 and has since worked at Margaret Cochenour Hospital. She is now chief of staff, but feels exhausted after being one of four doctors currently in the emergency department.

“I’ve come to this sobering realization that I can’t do this any longer. … I find myself a bit small and my biggest fear is making a mistake,” Whiley said, noting that her lack of family in the area also exacerbates her stress.

“I spent a lot of time focusing on this career and now I’m here, but I really haven’t spent a lot of time on relationships and the things that matter more to me than my job,” he said. she declared. “I’m not attached and find it very isolating working all the time because you can’t be with friends or meet anyone when you’re constantly on call.”

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said his party would increase the number of places available at NOSM University and hire 100,000 new health care workers across the province, including doctors and nurses, over six years.

Del Duca added that anyone who wishes to pursue a university education in health care and is prepared to practice in underserved, remote and rural communities, including the North, will not have to pay tuition fees if their party is elected.

“We’re going to make it easy for you if you’re willing to go and work in communities that need help,” he said Saturday during a campaign stop in west Toronto.

“It’s very clear and focused support that will go… to the heart of the challenge we face.”

The Progressive Conservatives, who are seeking re-election, presented a pre-campaign plan to invest $142 million to support tuition reimbursement for nurses in exchange for services in underserved communities across Ontario and Train more doctors through expanding medical education places, with 160 undergraduate places and 295 postgraduate positions offered over the next five years.

The Conservatives also said they would make it easier and faster for health care workers with foreign credentials to start practicing in Ontario by reducing barriers to registration and recognition by health regulatory colleges. .

“(Party Leader) Doug Ford is doing this by adding more nurses, doctors and personal support workers, building Ontario up with much-needed hospitals and long-term care beds, and by supporting the elderly so that they can receive care and stay in the comfort of their own homes for longer,” the party said in a statement on Saturday.

The Green Party, meanwhile, said it would double down on the Northern and Rural Physician Recruitment and Retention Initiative and the Northern Physician Retention Initiative to recruit 230 physicians and specialists in communities across North and expand the roles and scope of nurse practitioners as primary health care providers.

Among other promises, the Greens also said they would support expanding virtual care options for primary care providers and improve the availability of supports and services in French and Indigenous languages.

LeBeau said the community of Red Lake “continues to be at risk” and now is the time to act.

“It will take longer-term solutions like more medical school places, more residency places, as well as support for shorter-term solutions like adjunct physicians, let it be. whether it’s medical assistants or a nurse practitioner,” she added.

“We can’t, we don’t have time to wait for the system to catch up and educate enough doctors.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 28, 2022.

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