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January 12, 2024

Checking in with Algoma-Manitoulin hospitals





January 12, 2024

We have now entered the period of the legislative calendar where MPPs are back in their constituencies for an extended amount of time. The Ford government recessed the legislature a week earlier than planned in December, which unfortunately meant that the legislation I was set to bring forward to improve the Northern Health Travel Grant will now have to wait until February 22nd.

Delays in the process aside, I am always happy to have a chance to do more work in Algoma-Manitoulin. During this winter recess, my offices remain open both in Elliot Lake and Toronto. I utilize the opportunity to travel to communities in every part of Algoma-Manitoulin so I can meet with residents and community groups to discuss provincial issues.

In December, I took advantage of the legislative recess to tour hospitals in Algoma-Manitoulin and meet with the leadership teams in each community. As an elected official, I always try to keep up with the hospitals across our riding, as they form the central backbone of healthcare delivery for constituents. However, it was urgent that these meetings happen as soon as possible, given the recent Auditor General report on the state of healthcare in Northern Ontario.

Many readers of this column will be familiar with the report from the Auditor General, which painted a picture that clearly illustrated gross underfunding, understaffing, and a worsening financial situation for hospitals in small and rural communities in the North. While the issues it laid out were not necessarily new, the scope and depth of the problem described were more than a little concerning. The report did a superb job of assessing the region-wide situation and the broad-stroke struggles  of public hospitals in Northern Ontario. Some of my recent columns have focused on the report, and I encourage readers to refer to my December 8th article for those details (available at michaelmantha.com). 

But as we all know, there is always more to the story, and each community faces challenges specific to them.

In many ways, the crisis described by the Auditor’s report is notably worse for hospitals in Algoma-Manitoulin because it is comprised of so many small and rural communities. Our hospitals receive less funding from the Ontario government because of their size. However, given their distance from major urban centers, they are forced to contend with significantly more complex situations.

For example, having to hire an agency nurse to ensure their site is properly staffed. For any hospital, this means paying an extra two to three times more in salary for the same services. However, in a rural hospital, this also means paying extra for transportation and housing and training these staff on how to operate with the limited resources available in small communities. The same applies to locum coverage with the ongoing physician recruitment issues experienced across the North.

Recruiting staff to work in our hospitals due to perceived remoteness is a significant challenge that our hospitals face. But on top of this is the challenge of ensuring patients have ready access to care they need when such treatments are usually not available in smaller facilities. Anyone who has had to travel for treatment knows the financial burden of paying for gas and lodging. For patients who cannot drive or are in hospital care this is passed onto the hospital budget. Again, this extra cost is not recognized or compensated for by the Ministry.

Hospitals are also not compensated for many of the programs or standards that the Ministry mandates. For example, the Ministry has deemed the implementation and standardization of electronic health records (EHR) mandatory. This is an excellent initiative in theory. However, hospitals are expected to allocate millions of dollars in resources and time to implement it and ensure staff are trained to use it. There are also capital projects such as purchasing diagnostic imaging, repairing infrastructure, replacing furnishings, etc. These are not funded directly by the Ministry but instead through the hospital’s budget.

The Ministry refuses to acknowledge that hospital budgets in rural Northern Ontario are stretched to the limit. The Ministry remains steadfast in funding, providing only a 2% annual increase. Any rational Ontarian will quickly realize that this does not even match the rate of inflation that has increased the cost of operating in our province.

To say that public hospitals in Algoma-Manitoulin will soon be at a breaking point would not be an over reaction. This is an opportunity for the government to recognize this problem and correct their course before it is too late with the Spring budget coming up.

I encourage any concerned citizens from our riding or from anywhere in Northern Ontario to take the time to make a submission to the government’s budget consultations by emailing MOFconsultations@ontario.ca or sending a letter to the minister at the following address:

The Honourable Peter Bethlenfalvy

Minister of Finance

c/o Budget SecretariatFrost Building North, 3rd Floor

95 Grosvenor Street

Toronto, Ontario

M7A 1Z1

For my part, this is an issue I will not let go unheard at the legislature, and I will make sure that the realities of life in Algoma-Manitoulin are heard and to continue working for Northern Ontario at Queen’s Park in the New Year.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at mmantha-co@ola.org or by phone Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.       

Michael Mantha MPP/député       

Algoma-Manitoulin

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