Ontario signals acceptance of health deal, raises concerns about funding timelines
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TORONTO – The Ontario government and health officials are happy new federal funding is set to enter the health sector but say it’s nowhere near enough to fix the beleaguered system.
The province will accept any new money on health care from Ottawa, the premier and health minister said Wednesday, but they raised concerns about timelines related to the funding.
Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Sylvia Jones are set to meet Thursday in Toronto with federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc to discuss the details of proposed new money.
“I’m confident we’ll get the T’s crossed, the I’s dotted,” Ford said.
“We’re grateful for the offer. We’re grateful for sitting down with the prime minister, but we want sustainability. We need certainty moving forward, not just for a few years, five or 10 years, but decades to come.”
The federal government presented an offer Tuesday to the provinces and territories that would see an additional $17 billion over 10 years added to the Canada Health Transfer.
Ottawa would also provide an immediate one-time $2 billion top-up for this year to help provinces ease the intense pressure on emergency rooms and children’s hospitals.
Another $25 billion would be given for targeted funding for family doctors, mental health, surgical backlogs and health data systems.
The provinces and territories said the offer would increase the federal share of health-care costs from 22 per cent to 24 per cent next year, far short of the 35 per cent they were seeking.
Still, Ford and Jones appeared prepared to accept the deal.
“There is no doubt that any new health-care spending and investments, we will accept,” Jones said after announcing 23 new hospice beds will be added to the 500 beds available across the province.
But both want to discuss what they call the short-term nature of the funding.
Jones said she hopes to hear from Duclos “how we can ensure that these are not short-term, one-and-done programs.”
“When deals come from the federal government in 10- and five-year increments, it makes it very challenging,” she said.
“Whether you’re looking at new medical schools, new residency positions, training and hiring new nurses – those are all things that take literally decades and will be a commitment of our government for decades.”
Anthony Dale, president of the Ontario Hospital Association, said he had mixed feelings on the announcement. While pleased about new funding for health-care, he said more was required.
“It isn’t the revolution that Canada’s health-care systems truly need,” he said.
There is no new money coming from the federal government on home care, Dale said.
“Home care is an area that with very significant additional funding, we can make a real difference in improving the health-care system,” he said.
There are about 30,000 patients in hospitals across the province, he said, and about 5,000 of those patients do not need to be there.
Those patients should be at home with proper care, or in long-term care, assisted living or in mental-health facilities, he said. But that is not happening due to underfunding, he said.
“It’s a sign of a system in great imbalance,” Dale said.
Jones also said she was “frankly surprised” that there hasn’t been more interest and conversations from the federal government on home and community care.
“To me, it is a very natural place for that patient experience to be improved and enhanced,” she said.
Home Care Ontario said it was “extremely disappointed” in the health-care offer.
“We’re taking a step backwards,” said Sue VanderBent, the CEO of the association that represents home care organizations across the province.
“Without home care, more people will seek treatment in hospitals. People ready to be discharged from hospitals will remain there instead.”
VanderBent said there is hope more money can be found in the bilateral discussions between the province and the federal government.
The Ontario Medical Association welcomed the additional funding, but said the federal offer was not what it was expecting.
“It’s not what’s entirely needed for a long-term stable funding formula to fix all the cracks in the health-care system,” said Dr. Rose Zacharias, president of the Ontario Medical Association.
“We need investments in primary care, community care, long-term care and palliative care.”
Ottawa said long-term care is a priority and has earmarked $1.149 billion over 10 years for Ontario as part of the offer.
The CEO of AdvantAge Ontario, an association representing non-profit long-term care homes in the province, wants to ensure new money is used for new initiatives.
“We want funding that will truly advance the level and quality of care we can offer seniors,” Lisa Levin said.
“That includes funding for a broader array of staff, including physiotherapists, social workers, and investments to support homes in transitioning to emotion-focused models of care.”
Ford has said he would use the new federal money to hire more doctors and nurses, boost home care and invest in long-term care.
“The federal money will assist in, frankly, a lot of the investments and enhancements that we are making now,” Jones said.
The province has made numerous changes to health care since Ford’s Progressive Conservatives won a second term last spring.
That includes shifting more cataract surgeries and knee and hip replacements to private clinics. Patients will not have to pay for those procedures, Ford and Jones have said.
Negotiations over a new health-care deal for the provinces have dragged on for two years. The premiers had insisted no strings be attached to any new money.
But Ford relented on that stance last month, saying the province would commit to sharing health data and outcomes for a national database, something the federal government wanted.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.