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Report from Queen’s Park

by Tiff Blair

The leaves have all fallen and the winter frost has settled in.  As we kick off the New Year, it is important to reflect on some important news out of Queen’s Park over the past several months.

On November 15th, the government introduced its annual “Fall Economic Statement (FES)”.  This is something the government does every fall in order to take stock of how the economy is doing and recalibrate government spending as required in advance of a more fulsome budget in the spring.

What made this year’s FES more important than usual was the fact that it was the first opportunity for the new Progressive Conservative government to alter the fiscal plan laid out by the previous Liberal government.   Finance Minister Fedeli highlighted the government’s achievements since taking office in June 2018, including, the repeal of the Green Energy Act, the cancellation of Ontario’s cap-and-trade system, and a freezing of minimum wage rates.

With respect to healthcare, the government committed to taking a wholistic approach to ending what they describe as “hallway health care” – this means improved access to integrated health care. In terms of policy, the FES laid out the following:

  • The government has wound down the Self-Directed Personal Support Services Ontario agency to reduce the administrative burden of delivering home care. The Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) will continue to provide services under the Family-Managed Home Care program.
  • A 2018-19 investment of $90 million for 1,100 beds in hospitals in advance of the flu season. This is in addition to the $300 million to support 6,000 new long-term care beds across Ontario. This is the first phase of the government’s commitment to add 15,000 new long-term care beds over five years.
  •  $1.9 billion over 10 years on mental health and addictions services.  This is lower than the number committed by the Liberal government over the same time period.
  • More funding to increase Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) clinics across Ontario to give wider coverage to individuals with substance abuse issues.
  • The government will be reviewing the Ontario Drug Benefit Program with the intention of creating an easier to understand, more consistent and sustainable drug system.

While we welcome these new investments, it does appear that the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s budget came, and will continue to come, under pressure as the government tries to get a handle on its large deficit in this Spring’s budget.

Last week, we got a better idea of the direction the government may be headed in with the release of the 1st interim report by the Premier’s Council on Improving Healthcare & Ending Hallway Medicine, chaired by Dr. Rueben Devlin. The report highlighted many challenges that will be familiar to RPNs including that:

  • Patients and families face challenges navigating the health system and are facing difficulties in accessing quality care in a timely manner—which is impacting patient health and caregiver well-being.
  • The health system is increasingly strained and lacks right mix of services and beds, or digital tools to meet the growing and complex needs of patients anticipated in the near future and over the long-term.
  • There is a need for better coordination at both the system level, and at the point-of-care. The report recognized that simply adding additional hospital or long term care beds will not solve to the challenges facing the health system.

The council is expected to release a second report in Spring 2019 with recommendations and advice for government on how to remedy the challenges in the current health system.

WeRPN remains vigilant and is committed to doing whatever we can to ensure that RPNs are protected as much as possible from whatever changes or cutbacks may be imminent.  Ontario’s RPNs already face many challenges in delivering the care that patients deserve.  These include enduring increasingly heavy workloads and coping with the moral distress associated with witnessing situations where patients don't always have access to the care they need. This Fall we took this message directly to Premier Ford as the first nursing organization to meet with him.  And this January, we reiterated that same message when we met with Minister Elliott. We will continue to engage with the government and ensure the voice and concerns of RPNs are heard loud and clear.