Ontario’s next phase of ‘Plan to Stay Open’ includes funding private surgeries & more

The Ford government announces a plan to ease the pressure on hospitals, promising hospital patients won't be forced to go to a long-term care home they don't want

By Michael Ranger

The Ford government announced it will begin funding private clinic surgeries and introduce legislation to allow the movement of patients to long-term-care beds outside of their communities, in an effort to help stabilize the healthcare system.

Health Minister Sylvia Jones revealed the province’s the action plan from Sunnybrook Hospital on Thursday morning, which aims to ease the strain on Ontario hospitals that have been struggling to keep their emergency rooms open amid significant staffing shortages.

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve been actively engaged with frontline partners, hospitals, long-term care, and union leadership, to identify concrete and actionable solutions to respond to urgent pressures as well as prepare for any expected surge in the winter months,” she says.

“The second phase of the ‘Plan to Stay Open’ we are introducing today is the culmination of those conversations.”

The province will increase surgical capacity in the healthcare system by increasing the number of OHIP-covered surgical procedures in existing private facilities. The health minister did not specify the type of surgeries that would be done in private clinics.

Paramedics will also have the ability to take patients to places other than emergency rooms, allowing them to treat patients at home or be taken to another care facility.

The plan includes modifying a program that can deploy nurses full-time across multiple hospitals in a region, and expanding a program for mid-to-late career or retired nurses to mentor newer nurses.

The province will also temporarily cover the exam, application and registration fees for internationally trained and retired nurses, saving them up to $1,500, and plans to invest up to $57.6 million over three years to increase the number of nurse practitioners working in long-term care homes.

Jones says approximately 2,500 hospital beds will open up and up to 6,000 more health care workers will be added as a result of the new plan.

Language in the plan also suggests more of a role for privately delivered but publicly covered services, with the government saying it will invest more to increase surgeries in pediatric hospitals and existing private clinics covered by OHIP and is also considering options for further increasing surgical capacity by increasing the number of those procedures performed at “independent health facilities.”

Over the last week, Jones and Premier Doug Ford have said the province is considering all options to improve the health-care system, and have not ruled out further private-sector involvement, though they said Ontarians would not have to pay for anything.

Province to send patients waiting for LTC beds outside their communities

In long-term care, the government plans to introduce legislation that will allow patients awaiting a bed to be transferred to a “temporary” home while they await space in their preferred home, and is taking 300 beds that had been used for COVID-19 isolation and making them available for people on wait lists.

A senior government source confirmed with CityNews on Wednesday that if a doctor says a patient no longer needs a hospital bed and should be in long-term care, that patient can be moved to an available bed, even if it is further away from where they want to be.

“These amendments, if passed. Will make it easier to temporarily transition these patients into a long-term care home where they can receive more appropriate care,” said long-term care minister Paul Calandra on Thursday.

Calandra says a patient can say no to a transfer outside of their area and no one will be forced to move.

“We are not going to be forcing anyone out of a home,” he says. “But the changes do allow us to continue that conversation, to explain to someone in a hospital why their needs could be met in a long-term care home.”

Interim NDP Leader Peter Tabuns said Wednesday his party is strongly opposed to this change.

“What it appears they are doing is making life extraordinarily difficult for a whole bunch of frail people now whose families are going to be really upset,” he said.

The change would begin within a few weeks and the government hopes it will initially free up 250 beds in the next few months, with 200 patients who have been in the hospital waiting for six months being moved within three months. Another 50 will be moved within six months.

The province says 1,300 patients will be moved from hospital to long-term care by March 2023. There are nearly 2,000 beds being taken up by patients waiting to go into long-term care.

Hospital emergency departments throughout Ontario have closed for hours or even days this summer due to a severe shortage of nurses.

With files from The Canadian Press, Cynthia Mulligan and Meredith Bond

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