Ontario government announces creation of more private health care facilities throughout the province

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Published January 16, 2023 at 12:53 pm

At a Jan. 16 press conference, the Ontario government announced that it’s tackling the province’s surgical backlog–much of it created during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic–by allowing more medical procedures to be performed out-of-hospital at private for-profit and not-for-profit health care facilities. 

Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Sylvia Jones said that all medical procedures will be covered by OHIP and that all patients will pay “with their health card and not with their credit card.” 

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At the press conference, Ford and Jones said the Province is working to make it easier for residents to access publicly-funded surgeries and procedures by further leveraging community surgical and diagnostic centres, something they say will help eliminate surgical backlogs and reduce wait times. 

When asked how the Province will protect staffing levels (which have been under significant pressure in recent years) at public hospitals by ensuring there is no mass exodus of health-care workers to these clinics, Jones told reporters that individuals or organizations that apply to open clinics would be required to provide “detailed staffing plans as part of their application.”

The Province also said it would require a number of physicians at these centres to have active privileges at their local hospital.

Jones also told reporters that the Province is working to alleviate the current nursing shortage by allowing more internationally-trained health-care workers to work in Ontario, creating more opportunities for people to train for health-care jobs and working with regulatory bodies to get health-care workers licensed and practicing sooner. 

“When it comes to your health, the status quo is no longer acceptable,” Ford said in a statement. 

“Our government is taking bold action to reduce wait times for surgeries, all while ensuring Ontarians use their OHIP card to get the care they need, never their credit card.”

According to the Province, the three-step initiative begins with creating partnerships with community surgical and diagnostic centres in Windsor, Kitchener-Waterloo and Ottawa to clear the backlog of cataract surgeries. Jones told reporters that this will allow doctors to perform an additional 14,000 surgeries a year with “existing health human resources.” 

Jones also said Ontario is investing more than $18 million in existing centres to provide more than 49,000 hours of MRI and CT scans, 4,800 cataract surgeries, 900 other ophthalmic surgeries, 1,000 minimally invasive gynecological surgeries and 2,845 plastic surgeries such as hand soft tissue repair. 

In a news release, the Province said surgical wait lists are anticipated to return to pre-pandemic levels by March 2023, “barring operational issues.” 

Step two in the initiative involves the Province expanding the ability of community surgical and diagnostic centres to offer MRI and CT imaging and colonoscopy and endoscopy procedures. 

If the government’s relevant legislation is passed, step three involves allowing existing community diagnostic centres to conduct more MRI and CT scanning. Starting in 2024, the step will also expand surgeries for hip and knee replacements. 

At the press conference, Ford told reporters that Ontario “needs to do things differently” to address health care challenges in the Province, adding that he read that surgeons have the time to perform surgeries but not the space. 

“This makes sure we provide care…and it takes the burden off the hospitals so they can do the serious surgeries,” he said, adding that these changes would be permanent.

Health care unions say the new legislation, if passed, will endanger existing hospitals. 

In a statement, five unions said that this move will “further starve our public healthcare system of funding and divert front-line staff to enrich private shareholders and diminish access to publicly-delivered healthcare.” 

“Patients will wait even longer for healthcare under this scheme and should not be misled into believing they will not pay out of pocket,” the unions said. 

Instead, they’re calling on the Province to invest in the existing system. 

“Rather than divert funding from public hospital care to privatized clinics, the government must invest in our cherished public healthcare system, implement a substantive public hospital staffing retention program, and fund its public hospitals at least at the rate of the Canadian hospital average to deal with population growth, ageing and inflationary pressures.”

When asked if these clinics will be prohibited from “upselling” additional products and services to patients, neither Jones nor Ford would confirm or deny if such a rule would be in place. Instead, Jones insisted that patients will always have access to OHIP-covered options.

“It’s important to understand that OHIP-covered services will continue to exist. If patients aren’t given the option of an OHIP-funded service and are only given an upgrade, they can ask for an investigation. If there is a concern, we will investigate and when appropriate, we will refund the patient who buys something that should have been paid for by OHIP.”  

Graham McGregor, MPP for Brampton-North, told insauga.com that the government needs to be innovative to solve the issues plaguing the system. 

“Brampton residents are frustrated with long wait times in hospitals. We need to help patients who don’t need to be in the hospital to get care in another place. This will provide people with more options to receive care that they need,” he says. 

“Every patient that’s in for a cataract surgery or hip or knee replacement is using health-care staff that could be dealing with a more life-threatening intervention. A lot of Brampton residents get bumped for more urgent and life-threatening surgeries that need to happen.”

When asked if Brampton or Mississauga will be home to these new clinics, McGregor says more locations will be chosen as the steps in the plan progress. 

“We need to look at making Peel the healthcare powerhouse that it deserves to be.”

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