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Facing 'tsunami' of new mental health patients, Ontario Medical Association calls for more supports

Reducing patient wait times; expanding mental health, addiction and home care services; and preparing for the next pandemic are among top priorities for a group representing Ontario doctors.

Reducing wait times, expanding mental health services, preparing for next pandemic among top priorities: OMA

In its latest report, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) is calling for adequate funding to address the backlog, ensuring services are fully staffed and improving data collection among other recommendations. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Reducing patient wait times; expanding mental health, addiction and home care services; and preparing for the next pandemic are among top priorities for a group representing Ontario doctors.

The Ontario Medical Association shared its recommendations for improving the province's health system in a new report published Tuesday.

It also highlights the need to strengthen public health units and assign a linked team of health-care providers to every patient.

Dr. Adam Kassam, president of the group, said the pandemic has highlighted longstanding gaps in health care and changed how it is valued by the general public.

"I think everyone in society who has been gripped by the pandemic understands the value and the importance of a robust health-care system," he told a virtual news conference on Tuesday.

He said addressing issues will be key to provincial recovery from the pandemic.

"We can't have an economic recovery without a healthcare recovery."

The group is calling on political parties to include its recommendations in their platforms leading up to next June's provincial election.

It says tackling the pandemic backlog of services must be done along with reducing the long-standing problem of patient wait times.

The report calls for adequate funding to address the backlog, ensuring services are fully staffed, educating people about healthy lifestyles, offering more services outside hospitals and improving data collection.

To respond to the "tsunami of new patients" seeking mental health care, the report says there must be more affordable, publicly funded services in people's communities.

Twofold increase in mental health visits, modelling suggests 

It recommends setting provincewide standards for mental health and addiction services, more funding for those services, providing mental health supports to health workers and increasing the number of supervised drug consumption sites.

Kassam noted that modelling from past disasters suggests Canada will see a twofold increase in visits to mental health professionals and an increase in prescriptions for antidepressants.

Investing more funds in home care recruitment and retention is recommended as a priority that the report says will save space in hospital beds and reduce wait times for other patients.

It also recommends ensuring people without family doctors can access home care, reducing administrative paperwork requirement and providing tax relief for families who employ full-time caregivers.

As for long-term care, the report recommends strengthening the role of doctors in homes, appointing chief medical officers specifically to oversee long-term care, recruiting and retaining staff and improving links between hospitals and care homes.

The medical association says the province should begin preparing for the next pandemic by making it mandatory by law to have a provincial pandemic plan that must be reviewed and updated every five years.

It also calls for sending sufficient resources to Public Health Ontario and public health units, and standardizing a funding formula for them.

A section of the report dedicated to specific concerns in northern Ontario was published earlier this week.

The doctors group says it supports calls from the premiers for the federal government to increase the Canada Health Transfer to 35 per cent of health spending in provinces and territories.

The medical association says it developed the report with input from doctors, health-care organizations, community leaders and thousands of Ontario residents.

 

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