Today Ontario released the next phase of its “Plan to Stay Open” in preparation for what the government says will be a likely rise in respiratory ailments. This includes increasing surgeries performed at private clinics that will be covered by OHIP, moving patients to an alternate long-term care home, allowing paramedics to provide more care and hiring thousands of additional health care workers.
“Historically, fall and winter are when cases of respiratory illnesses rise, putting strain on emergency departments, hospitals and the broader health system, including long-term care. This year will also include Omicron,” the 18-page document stated. “In order to address current pressures, make more progress with surgical backlogs and be properly prepared for any upcoming winter surge, we need to do more.”
When fully implemented, this next phase will add up to 6,000 more health care workers, a statement from the Ministry of Health said. It will also free up over 2,500 hospital beds so that care is there for those who need it, and expand models of care that provide better, more appropriate care to avoid unnecessary visits to emergency departments.
Highlights of the plan are below.
Paramedics to provide more care
Ontario says it is expanding the hugely successful 9-1-1 models of care to include additional ailments and is now giving paramedics the flexibility to provide better, more appropriate care. Patients diverted from emergency departments through these models received the care they needed up to 17 times faster with 94 per cent of patients avoiding the emergency department in the days following treatment.
Temporarily moving patients to an alternate long-term care home
Patients whose doctors have said they no longer need hospital treatment and should instead be placed in a long-term care home will have the option of going to an alternate facility while they wait for their preferred home.
There will be mandatory guidelines used by placement coordinators to ensure patients continue to stay close to a partner, spouse, loved ones or friends, and ensure these patients won’t be out of pocket for any cost difference between their temporary home and their preferred home.
OHIP-covered surgeries in private clinics
The province is also looking at reducing the surgical backlog through OHIP-covered surgical procedures at private health facilities. “Ontario is investing more to increase surgeries in paediatric hospitals and existing private clinics covered by OHIP, as well as to fund more than 150,000 additional operating hours for hospital-based MRI and CT machines,” the statement said.
Covering some nursing fees
The province is working with the College of Nurses of Ontario to reduce the financial barriers that may be stopping some retired or internationally trained nurses from receiving accreditation to resume or begin practicing by temporarily covering the cost of examination, application, and registration fees, saving them up to $1,500.
“The nursing crisis is deepening – yet there are thousands of internationally trained nurses (IENs) residing in Canada who have been waiting years for regulatory registration,” said Dr. Doris Grinspun CEO of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO). “RNAO commends the government’s intention to accelerate the integration of IENs as one of the urgent actions required to address the nursing crisis.”
The province has said that free rapid antigen tests will continue to be available to the general public at participating grocery and pharmacy retailers throughout the province as well as for workplaces, schools, and congregate settings.
Ontario is also expecting Health Canada to approve a new COVID-19 vaccine this fall that will better protect against Omicron variants of the virus and provide another layer of protection.