Sometimes I wonder if people from other lands and cultures see Canadians and Americans as pretty much interchangeable, kind of like a family with identical twins. Sometimes it is almost impossible, at least from an outside the family perspective. But for family members, the differences are written all over their face….well, you know what I mean. The differences are day and night is a better way to describe it.
Canadians have long had a reputation for exhibiting more subdued pride in our country, history and achievements than our good neighbours to the south. And let’s get this straight right up front so there’s no debate – Canadians OWN hockey. But over the last ten years serving as MPP, I have come to the conclusion that there is strong evidence that, next to hockey in pride and importance is our public health care system. Rightly we are proud of our public health care services. People must get the right care, when they need it and as close to home as possible, including in rural and Northern Ontario areas.
Without any doubt, one of the longest and ongoing complaints that my office receives is lack of access to doctors here in Northern Ontario. The shortage of doctors here has been an issue that so many successive governments have brushed aside. And to be sure, the pandemic has truly obviated this shortage. My office gets many calls and letters from individuals who can’t get onto a physician’s roster whether it’s because they are new to the area or because their doctor has retired or just packed up and moved south for various reasons. It is important to note that among the most common reasons is doctor burnout because their rosters are overloaded.
I would be remiss in writing this column if I neglected to point out that the shortage of nurses in Northern Ontario is of equal concern. The problem is two fold in that there is a shortage of both program openings as well as clinical placements to produce the number of nurses required. Despite the fact that there is a noticeable surge in interest in registration in nursing schools, it is feared that the number of graduating students will be far exceeded by the demand all across the country.
As it stands today, nurse burnout is at a crisis level. The April 13, 2021 edition of the Toronto Star reported that, “At the end of 2020, job vacancies in Canada’s health care sector hit a record high of 100,300, up more than 56 per cent from the previous year. It was reported that emergency departments and intensive care units are disproportionately affected.” This fact was backed up with even more recent statistics by Canadian Medical Association (CMA) president Katharine Smart in the August 24th edition of iPolitics. Smart stated, “In the past four months, the number of Canadians working in health care has fallen in every province except Manitoba, according to Statistics Canada.”
This means that those who are on the job are overextending themselves. No one can afford to take time off to re-energize, connect with their families and do the stuff that helps keeps us grounded. The incredible heavy work load is breaking them down to their socks. In the same article, the Star reported that 95.7 per cent of nurses responding to a survey indicated that their stress level was either high or very high. As a result, those who have been on the job for a while are taking early retirement while they still have their health intact. This serves to exacerbate the problem and puts incredible stress on younger nurses and recent graduates who lack the knowledge and skills that only come with experience. When people are tired or rushed, they make mistakes. And in healthcare, when mistakes are made, the results can be tragic and irreversible.
The truth of the matter is that our public health care system must meet the constantly changing needs of Ontarians. As our population grows and ages, health care services must be able to meet new demands, adopt innovative practices, educate and train health care professionals and respond quickly and effectively to changing needs in our communities.
Here in Northern Ontario, as we desperately try to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic, we too hope to be part of the big comeback to our economy. We are hearing and seeing new industry developments and expansions in mining and forestry. This means we will see an influx and shifting of populations in some towns and therefore the healthcare needs for those communities will be affected. Sitting back and waiting for a crisis to happen is not a good game plan. We need to be proactive, because health and lives are on the line. Communities need support from the government to help them adapt to changing needs. Leaving folks mired in healthcare woes is just not acceptable. We need to be sure necessary funding and support is in place to keep people healthy and safe.
Some patients who can’t find a doctor in their own community resort to trying to find one in a neighbouring town. The problem is that, here in the North, the same problem exists everywhere. Even if they do find a doctor out of town, and if they are fortunate enough to find a way to travel there, an appointment that might normally take a person an hour in town ends up being 3, 4 or even 5 hours away. And if you are elderly or unwell, such travel demands may just not be safe or practical.
NDP MPP health critic France Gélinas has worked extensively on this issue and has pressed the government to take meaningful action to resolve nursing and doctor shortages in the north. She has pointed out time and time again to the Minister of Health that Northern Ontarians are grossly underserved. She has encouraged the minister to go through any number of northern hospital and family health team websites and tally up the number of doctor and nurse job postings. Some are new jobs, but most are in response to retirements of our aging northern doctor population or are vacancies because doctors are burned out because their rosters are overflowing and they just can’t keep up to the growing demands up here. As a result they pack up and head south.
France stated in a recent CBC radio interview that she has risen in the legislature on more than 40 occasions to challenge the Ford government on the inequality of healthcare services between Northern and Southern Ontarians. She said that almost every time the response is how much the government is doing or investing in Southern Ontario medical facilities to address such issues.
Andrea Horwath and the NDP believe that delivering quality public health care is the most important responsibility that a provincial government has. It’s time to start moving forward again, so Ontarians can expect more from the health services we have built together. So where is Doug Ford’s plan to resolve this situation?
So, the good news is, Canada still reigns supreme in the hockey world and we continue to hold the all associated bragging rights. Canada does, and always will, own hockey. Of equal good news is that, aside from hockey, our generally demure sense of pride and characteristic swagger remains as discernable as ever from that of our southern friends. But be aware that we must be ever on guard for our precious healthcare public system.
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 [email protected] or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député