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Long-term solutions needed for Ontario's healthcare system

Several hospitals in Ontario closed emergency departments last weekend due to a severe staffing shortage. In Premier Doug Ford’s throne speech this week, the government said it is working with stakeholders to identify possible solutions to ease the pressure facing the healthcare system.

“Your government is actively engaging with health-system partners to identify urgent, actionable solutions and will implement whatever measures are needed to help ease immediate pressures,” Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell said in the throne speech delivered on behalf of the Ford government.

While the immediate issues facing the healthcare system, such as temporary emergency department closures, need to be addressed, the Public Policy Forum’s Sean Speer said the government must also focus on the long-term, structural problems in the system.

“We know because of aging demographics, pressure on our healthcare system is only going to grow,” Speer said.

“It’s going to require more than a short-term push if we’re going to ensure not just that these emergency rooms reopen in the short term, but that they are actually capable of serving patients over the long term.”

If you have any policy-related questions, or feedback about the show, please email alicja@yahoofinance.com.

Video Transcript

ALICJA SIEKIERSKA: So, Sean, what do you make of the situation that Ontario's health care system is facing right now?

SEAN SPEER: Well, Alicja, this is a topic that we've covered on this program for a long time, which is the extent to which the pandemic exposed long-standing structural challenges within health care systems, really across the country. And it seems like that's sort of come to a head in Ontario in the past several days. You mentioned hospitals closing their emergency departments over the weekend.

My son was born at the Montfort Hospital here in the Ottawa area. And it's one of the hospitals, for instance, that closed its emergency rooms from 7:30 PM on Saturday night to 7:30 AM on Sunday morning, which, in a way, really draws attention to this major problem that's been brewing for some time, but, obviously, exacerbated by the pandemic.

I liked, in a way, what I heard from the LG today as part of the Ontario government's speech from the throne. But I would just caution that the emphasis on addressing these short-term challenges has to be matched by a kind of similar level of ambition about the need to address these longer term structural problems. Yes, of course, things are more acute in the immediacy of the post-pandemic period, but we know that because of aging demographics, pressure on our health care systems is only bound to grow.

So I guess that's a long way of saying, it's about time we're hearing from governments, not just in Ontario, but elsewhere, that they understand the supply demand problems. But it seems to me it's going to require more than a short-term push if we're going to ensure not just that these emergency rooms reopen in the short-term, but that they're actually capable of serving patients over the long-term.

ALICJA SIEKIERSKA: Yeah, I think, as you mentioned, that the COVID-19 pandemic really highlighted how vulnerable our health care system was to a surge in demand. It's-- the main reason why so many regions had to go into lockdown was to maintain that hospital capacity and ICU beds because of the spike in cases that we were seeing over the last two years. And so what do you think it shows that even as we're out of this and that we're not facing the same kind of ICU strain and COVID severity, necessarily, as we were in kind of the peak of the pandemic over the last two years, that we are still facing issues within our health care system? How do you think the government needs to begin to address these kind of different issues here?

SEAN SPEER: Well, there are so many ways to respond to that question. Let me focus on one in particular, which is sort of intuitive. There are many ways in which our system at present has supply problems. Viewers will be familiar with our lack of ICU beds, which I think people didn't fully appreciate before the pandemic.

People will no doubt be familiar with the lack of MRI machines and other medical technologies that result in long wait times for patients before and now after the pandemic. But a major supply issue is actually people. We have health care human resource shortages really across the system that were bound to occur even before the pandemic because of aging demographics, but have been exacerbated because of the toll the pandemic has imposed on health care professionals, including doctors, nurses, and others.

And so the focus on bricks and mortar will be important. We need more beds, more technology, more, more, more. But we need to make sure that we have the people to provide services, really across the health care system, from the hospitals themselves, to long-term care, and in-home care. As our population gets older and more people choose to try to age at home, it's going to create a whole new labor issue within our health care system.

So I guess it's a long way of saying in Ontario here, the government has been nodding to the need to accelerate credentialization for internationally trained health care professionals. Obviously, that's a big part of the puzzle. But I think we need to be asking ourselves, are we training enough health care professionals within our education system as well?