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Deputy Premier and Minister Christine Elliott's Speech at the 2020 Rural Ontario Municipal Association's Annual Conference

Speech

Deputy Premier and Minister Christine Elliott's Speech at the 2020 Rural Ontario Municipal Association's Annual Conference

Ministry of Health

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Good morning, everyone.

It is a pleasure to join you today.

I'm especially looking forward to the delegations scheduled with many of you over the next two days to hear about your experiences with health care and how we can work together to improve your communities' health and well being.

Our government is proud to work alongside our partners in rural governments in finding solutions that work for all Ontarians, no matter where they may live.

As Ontario's Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, it's my responsibility to help build a public health care system that works for all Ontarians. That includes the nearly three million people who live outside of our province's major metropolitan areas.

This is not a responsibility I take lightly. In fact, I'm proud of the progress we've made over the past year in starting to correct long-standing inequities that have disadvantaged the health of Ontario's rural and remote communities.

Take, for example, the $68 million our government announced last fall invested to support small- and medium-sized hospitals across Ontario with their unique situations and funding challenges.

This new investment is on top of the $384 million more that Ontario's hospitals received as part of the province's 2019 budget.

It includes a province-wide increase in funding of one per cent for 66 small-sized hospitals...

...1.5 per cent for 23 medium-sized hospitals...

...and targeted funding to assist with unique situations and historical funding challenges.

The real and significant needs of the hospital that service Ontario's rural communities went ignored for too long.

That's why last month our government was proud to announce that we are investing in the health and safety of patients by addressing urgent upgrades, repairs and maintenance to help modernize 131 hospitals across the province.

Through the Health Infrastructure Renewal Fund, Ontario is investing $175 million this year to help hospitals across the province maintain their infrastructure and ensure a safe and comfortable environment for patients to receive care.

In addition, we also announced that we are investing $7.2 million through the Community Infrastructure Renewal Fund to address ongoing urgent or emergent infrastructure renewal needs for community health service providers who met specific criteria on a priority basis.

These investments will help ensure that patients across Ontario...

...wherever they may live...

...can receive the care they need in a safe and comfortable setting.

Seemingly small things like well-functioning roofs, windows or heating and air conditioning systems, fire alarms and back-up generators can make the world of difference to a patient's experience and ensure they have access to reliable, high-quality care.

Now, as everyone here will know, our government made a commitment to the people of Ontario that we would end hallway health care.

A problem long-neglected, the unfortunate reality is that there is no easy solution. I wish there was.

But our government has a comprehensive plan to keep this promise.

It's a plan with four pillars.

First, we want to keep Ontarians healthy and out of hospitals. We call this pillar prevention and health promotion.

Second, our plan will ensure that Ontarians receive the right care in the right place.

While in many ways the backbone of our health care system, especially in rural communities, the hospital isn't always the best place for a patient to receive care...

...especially at a time when far too many are operating at more than 100 per cent capacity.

Third, we are better integrating care to improve patient flow.

Doing so will help ensure that those patients who are ready to leave the hospital can do so with the support and care they need while freeing up beds for patients waiting in a hallway or meeting room.

Finally, by investing $27 billion over 10 years in hospital infrastructure projects, our plan is building much-needed capacity throughout the system, including in hospitals in rural communities across the province.

Whether it's West Lincoln Memorial, Lake of the Woods, Markdale or Prince Edward County Memorial, we are investing in building new and expanded hospital capacity for all Ontarians closer to home.

As the government continues our work to bring Ontario's health care system into the 21st century, this funding will help health service providers address urgent issues.

Allow me to return to the first pillar in our plan to end hallway health care - prevention and health promotion.

To build healthier communities, we must consider how best to deliver public health in a way that is resilient, efficient, nimble, and modern...

...and in a way that meets the evolving health needs and priorities of Ontario's families.

For too long, public health has existed in isolation from the broader health care system...

... a concern highlighted by the Auditor General.

In 2017, the Auditor General reported that public health units are poorly coordinated and duplicating work.

The Auditor General also reported that public health services are delivered inconsistently across the province.

This is neither fair nor equitable for the people of Ontario, especially those living in rural communities who may not benefit from the scope or scale enjoyed by larger municipalities.

Something needs to be done. The status quo is not an option.

We need to unlock the value of the good work being done in communities across the province to keep people healthy.

To that end, we are working with our municipal partners to design a public health system that meets the following principles:

  • Better consistency and equity of service delivery across the province;
  • Improved clarity and alignment of roles and responsibilities between the province, Public Health Ontario and local public health;
  • Unlocking and promoting leading innovative practices and key strengths from across the province; and
  • Better and deeper relationships with primary care and the broader health care system to support the goal of ending hallway health care through improved health promotion and prevention.

As we make these long-overdue changes, I want you to know our government is listening.

Led by Jim Pine, our advisor on public health and emergency health services, the Ministry of Health has launched renewed stakeholder consultations across Ontario.

To date, in-person sessions have been held in Thunder Bay, Peterborough, Peel Region, North Bay, and London. Approximately 200 participants from the public health, emergency health services, and municipal sectors have come out to share their thoughts and best advice.

Planning is currently underway for nine or 10 additional in-person sessions, as well as additional meetings, such as with the AMO Health Task Force tomorrow afternoon.

A discussion paper for each of the public health and emergency health services were also released to stakeholders asking for feedback by February 10, 2020.

To date, over 400 submissions have been received from organizations and individuals providing their advice.

And while we recognize we still have much more consulting to do, we're already hearing strong messages from our partners.

We're hearing that there is an openness to doing things differently and addressing capacity challenges of public health units, based on evidence and determined alongside partners.

Importantly, we've heard that careful consideration must be given to the unique issues and needs of your communities as we consider any changes.

In instances where health units have well established partnerships, such as those with social services and health care services, we are hearing that there is a desire to maintain and build on existing partnerships.

We recognize that there is also a desire to ensure that public health continues to be aligned with regional and municipal levels of government.

We are hearing that there is a need to better define the role of our health units.

And while we continue to hear questions about the implementation of the new cost-sharing arrangement and its impact on municipalities...

...we have also heard support for the need to ensure that public health units operate more effectively and efficiently.

Together, we can tackle our shared challenges and take hold of these opportunities to build a more robust and effective public health system.

Together, we can help facilitate better and deeper relationships between public health and primary care to keep our communities healthy and help end hallway health care.

With respect to Ontario's emergency health services, we are hearing about the long-standing challenges of outdated technology and the inability to communicate in real time with other services in the area. 

We are hearing about the potential for better dispatching systems to improve responses to patients and make the best use of paramedic resources within your communities.

Like much of our health care system, we have heard our paramedics need greater, more seamless access to patient histories and health records.

Municipalities have expressed their concerns about patient transportation between facilities, especially in rural areas where distances between services are vast. 

We understand that in areas where paramedic services are called to transport these patients, it can significantly reduce the availability of paramedic capacity for emergencies within your communities.

I know Jim will be speaking to many of you later today about the consultations and discuss these important issues.

We believe there is an opportunity here for meaningful change that will benefit our communities and citizens. You have the first-hand knowledge to help us achieve that goal.

Our government will be continuing with our consultations throughout the month of February.

At that time, we can begin to consider the important changes we need to make to modernize and strengthen our public health and emergency health services in consultation with you, our municipal partners.

Once again, thank you for the invitation to be here today. I look forward to hearing more from all of you on these important topics for our rural communities.

Thank you.

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