Northern Ontario seniors need a government that understands and considers their unique needs
October 27, 2023
For those who have been lucky enough to visit the Legislature, you will no doubt have seen the vast array of art displays and informational exhibits that decorate its halls. I highly recommend a visit to anyone who finds themselves with an afternoon to spare while visiting Toronto. I regularly spend time walking around, taking in any new displays after my house duties have wrapped up for the day. Such walks help to keep me focussed on the richness Northern life offers and the responsibility I have to bring the voices of the people of Algoma-Manitoulin to Queen’s Park.
Last week, I found myself admiring the massive topographical map of Ontario that hangs just past the main entrance. As I took it in, I decided to see if I could identify the boundaries of Algoma-Manitoulin without man-made landmarks like roads and towns. During this exercise, I was struck again by the vast geographic differences facing Northern communities compared to those living south of the French River. Lakes, rivers, forests, and hills characterize our region, and they heavily impact the way we live up here.
In most ways, these features are a boon to us. We can spend our leisure time enjoying the beauty of the natural world close to home, and we are blessed with a unique sense of community because of our shared environment. However, the uniqueness of the North also brings with it several challenges when it comes to access and delivery of essential services.
One of those challenges that I hear about regularly in my office is homecare for seniors. Finding homecare that is both timely and sufficient to meet the needs of seniors in the North is an ongoing issue that the government has left ignored for decades. It is an even more serious problem as our province continues to deal with a shortage of medical staff and spaces in hospitals and long-term care.
Failing to provide homecare to individuals who are healthy enough to stay in their homes but need some extra assistance is a major factor in the overcrowding of our hospitals and care homes. I hear from constituents all the time how they would have much preferred to continue to live in their own home but can’t find that additional support they need.
The issues with homecare stem back to the Harris’ government days and their push to sign more contracts with large, for-profit providers. The way the system is set up right now, only these companies can compete in the government’s bidding process. These same companies have been routinely found incapable of providing adequate coverage for communities, stable staff jobs, or robust patient care. The reason for this is quite simple. It is because the main objective of such companies is to provide investment returns for their shareholders rather than providing the highest standard of care to those in need.
In the North, the obstacles to overcoming the shortage in homecare are compounded by that same unique geography I mentioned before. The PSWs, nurses, and other healthcare workers who provide these services are already overworked and underpaid because of this government’s policies and the privatization of the sector. Now add the vast area they must cover, the low population density of our region, and the hazards involved with winter travel across Northern Ontario. You can quickly see why services provided in other parts of the province are not going to have the same impact here.
All of this was on my mind as MPPs debated the government’s ‘Convenient Care at Home Act’ in the Legislature this week. This bill makes two changes to homecare in Ontario: one; it creates ‘Ontario Health at Home’, a centralized agency in charge of all decision-making processes regarding homecare providers; two, it brings the for-profit homecare providers into Ontario Health Teams, which will further the privatization of our healthcare system.
Both moves contemplated in this bill concern me as a Northern member. I have been clear that the government’s move to Ontario Health Teams (to replace the Local Health Integration Networks) was not carried out in a way that works for our Northern communities. We saw vast regions with little in common heedlessly lumped together, with seemingly no regard for the commonality between them. Going further and centralizing all decision-making about homecare in one agency will again reduce the ability to have Northern realities reflected in government policy.
Ontario’s seniors’ health, welfare, and happiness are matters that should be among the Province’s highest priorities. The Ford government needs to realize that essential services such as homecare are not just standard businesses because of their incredible impact on the lives of a highly vulnerable sector of people. The Ford government must grasp the reality that the private sector will continue to fail at providing adequate care to small, rural, and Northern communities. Ontario is the only province in Canada to have private, for-profit companies providing homecare. This needs to end if the government wants to fix our broken system. We need to ensure that PSWs, healthcare workers, and nurses are provided with good salaries and stable jobs, and the government must not try to apply a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, it must empower local health teams that better understand the communities’ needs.
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 email@example.com or by phone Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député