OHS Canada Magazine

Ontario unveils sweeping plan to prepare health-care system for winter surge in COVID


August 18, 2022
By OHS Canada

COVID-19 Health care Hospitals ontario Recruitment

Ontario has unveiled its plan to ensure the province is well-prepared to weather an expected winter surge in COVID cases and avoid any shutdowns.

The “Plan to Stay Open: Health System Stability and Recovery” is a five-point plan to provide care while ensuring the resources and supports are in place to keep the economy open, the province said.

“When we released our first Plan to Stay Open in March 2022, we made a promise to build an Ontario that is ready for the challenges of tomorrow because we can no longer accept the status quo,” said Sylvia Jones, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “The second phase of our plan will provide the support our health system needs to address the urgent pressures of today while preparing for a potential winter surge so our province and economy can stay open.”

When fully implemented, it will add up to 6,000 more health-care workers, the government said.

Combined with the initiatives included in the first phase of the plan that are adding 13,000 more staff, the two plans together are adding 19,000 more health care workers, including nurses and personal support workers, to Ontario’s health workforce. 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 it says provide better, more appropriate care to avoid unnecessary visits to emergency departments.

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The next phase of Ontario’s Plan to Stay Open also temporarily covers the costs of examination, application and registration fees for internationally trained and retired nurses, so they can resume or begin caring for patients sooner.

Access to testing, therapies increasing

To further bolster the fight against COVID-19 and help stop its spread, the government is continuing to provide access to testing for COVID-19, Paxlovid and Evusheld therapies for treatment for those who are eligible, with plans on expanding eligibility for Evusheld for high-risk populations in the coming weeks.

COVID-19 and flu shots will also continue to be provided to Ontarians so they can stay up to date with their vaccinations to protect themselves and reduce the number of hospitalizations due to respiratory illnesses.

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.

Providing ‘right care in the right place’

Ontario is expanding its 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, the government said.

The province is also introducing legislation that, if passed, will support patients whose doctors have said they no longer need hospital treatment and should instead be placed in a long-term care home, while they wait for their preferred home.

Ontario continues to fund community paramedicine to provide additional care for seniors in the comfort of their own homes before their admission to a long-term care home. These initiatives will free up to 400 hospital beds, it said.

Other changes

The province is also:

  • spending $300 million in 2022-23 to decrease wait times for surgery
  • working with hospitals to identify innovative solutions to reduce wait times, including increasing the number of OHIP-covered surgical procedures performed at private health facilities
  • funding 150,000 more hours for hospital-based MRI and CT machines.

Recruitment and training

Ontario is also launching a new provincial emergency department peer-to-peer program to provide additional on-demand, real-time support and coaching from experienced emergency physicians to aid in the management of patients presenting to rural emergency departments.

It also plans to add 400 physician residents to support the workforce in northern and rural areas.

And it’s working with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to expedite the registration of doctors, including those from out-of-province and who may want to work in rural and northern emergency departments, so they can start working and caring for patients sooner.

It is also working with the College of Nurses of Ontario and Ontario Health to expand funding for the supervised practice experience partnership program which has already supported over 600 international nurses in getting licensed since January. The province anticipates that by the end of the fiscal year another 400 international nurses will gain the practice and language requirements necessary to work in Ontario.

Quick facts

  • Ontario has processed over 25 million lab-based COVID-19 PCR tests and distributed close to 240 million free rapid antigen tests to date.
  • Ontario has administered over 34.5 million COVID-19 vaccinations to date.
  • Over 36,000 doses of Paxlovid have been prescribed to protect Ontarians against the worst effects of COVID-19, helping to reduce hospital admissions.
  • Ontario has invested $880 million in surgical recovery investments over the last three fiscal years, including increasing surgical capacity through funding for innovative hospital projects.
  • To strengthen long-term care and alternate levels of care, Ontario has invested $175.2 million to expand home care services and $117 million for sustainability of home care services, and $1 million to inter-facility transfer of medically stable patients in Northern Ontario.
  • The Ontario government has approved new patient care models, giving paramedics more flexibility to treat and refer patients when responding to 911 calls.
  • Over 10,900 health care professionals (including over 7,800 nurses and externs) have been added to the health system since Winter 2020.
  • The government has invested $764 million to provide Ontario’s nurses with a retention incentive of up to $5,000 per person.

Source: Government of Ontario

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