Ontario Just Updated Its 'Plan To Stay Open' & These 5 Things Are Coming

The provincial government says this plan will address the "urgent pressures" in its health care system.

Ontario Health minister Sylvia Jones. Right: North York General Hospital.
Toronto Associate Editor

Ontario Health minister Sylvia Jones. Right: North York General Hospital.

The Ontario government just announced its new plans on how it will work to ease some of the strains on the province's health care system.

On Thursday, August 18, Health minister Sylvia Jones, alongside Minister of Long-Term Care Paul Calandra, detailed the second phase of the Plan to Stay Open.

"When we released our first Plan to Stay Open in March 2022, we made a promise to build an Ontario that is ready for the challenges of tomorrow because we can no longer accept the status quo," said Jones in a news release.

"The second phase of our plan will provide the support our health system needs to address the urgent pressures of today while preparing for a potential winter surge so our province and economy can stay open."

The Ontario government shared that this part of the Plan to Stay Open includes a five-point strategy, and when its fully put in place, it will bring on up to 6,000 more health care workers and free up more than 2,500 hospital beds.

Preserving hospital capacity

To ease some of the capacity strains at the hospitals, Ontario says it will continue to provide flu and COVID-19 vaccines so they can keep up with their vaccines and cut the number of hospitalizations due to respiratory illness.

The provincial government will also still continue to provide access to COVID-19 testing, Paxlovid and Evusheld for eligible Ontarians, and free rapid antigen tests at participating pharmacies and grocery stores as well as schools, and workplaces.

Providing the "Right Care in the Right Place"

Ontario said it's introducing a number of initiatives to "help avoid unnecessary hospitalizations, improve the process for ambulance offloading, and reintroduce respite services in long-term care."

The provincial government also said it's expanding how 911 calls are handled to include "additional ailments" so that patients can be diverted to the right emergency departments.

The province said it will continue to provide community paramedicine to seniors at home before they go to a long-term care facility, which they say will "free up to 400 hospital beds."

Cutting surgical waitlists

The Ontario government is investing $300 million from 2022 to 2023 to help tackle the surgical procedures backlog and reduce the "pressure on the health care system" in the province.

The province says it's working with hospital partners to cut down the wait times for surgeries and procedures, like expanding capacity by increasing "the number of OHIP-covered surgical procedures performed at independent health facilities."

Ontario is also looking to boost the number of operational hours for hospital-based MRI and CT machines.

Easing the pressure on emergency departments

The province will be introducing a new emergency department "peer-to-peer program" to help provide real-time support from experienced emergency physicians to patients in rural areas.

The Ontario government also said that 400 more physician residents will be brought into the workforce in the northern and rural parts of the province. Plus, it will be speeding up the registration of out-of-province doctors who might want to work in these emergency departments so they can care for patients "sooner."

Adding more people to Ontario's health workforce

Ontario says it is working with the College of Nurses of Ontario and Ontario Health to expand the program to bring in more international nurses to the province's workforce and to "reduce the financial barriers that may be stopping some retired or internationally trained nurses from receiving accreditation."

The province also said it will be working with frontline partners to learn how to tackle the growing concerns with hospitals and emergency departments.

The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO) said in an August 9 news release that "more than 25 hospitals were forced to limit hours or temporarily close emergency room (ER) services, critical care services and in some cases, intensive care units (ICU) were shut down" because of a staffing shortage of registered nurses.

Ontario first announced its Plan To Stay Open back in March, which detailed what steps it would take to strengthen its health care system through initiatives like expanding its workforce and putting in more hospital beds.

This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.

Alex Arsenych
Toronto Associate Editor