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New OMA president calls for more mental health and addiction supports in North

Dr. Rose Zacharias began her new term at an OMA meeting in Thunder Bay.
Dr. Rose Zacharias new
Dr. Rose Zacharias is the new president of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA photo)

THUNDER BAY — The new president of the Ontario Medical Association says the province's 43,000 doctors are carefully tracking the election campaign platforms of each party.

Interviewed in Thunder Bay on Friday as she started her one-year term, Dr. Rose Zacharias said the OMA will soon issue report cards comparing each party's positions to the association's Prescription for Ontario, a multi-point plan it issued last fall.

The OMA also released a specific plan for improving medical care in Northern Ontario.

Zacharias said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing shortcomings in mental health and addictions services.

During her visit to Thunder Bay, she consulted with local physician leaders and some of the faculty of NOSM University about the challenges in delivering services that are increasingly in demand.

Zacharias said she gained more insight into the need for more investment in these services by the provincial government.

"There's an extremely underserviced situation when we talk about the mental health and addictions health care provision here....We know that opioid-related deaths are at an all-time high. We know that the pandemic has increased the stress of mental health and addictions. And so particularly here in the North we need to be developing that infrastructure."

According to Zacharias, that means not only more capital investments to increase capacity in hospitals and withdrawal treatment centres, but more comprehensive supports for health care workers experiencing burnout from the pandemic.

"We need to improve the health of the health care providers while we [develop] a better-resourced system to provide care," she said.

Zacharias also stressed the need for improved coordination.

"Mental health work needs to be done in teams. We can talk about doctor and nurse shortages, but we also need the personal support workers, the pharmacists, and all the health care providers to be digitally connected and working in a coordinated fashion."

Zacharias lives in Oro-Medonte, near Orillia, and has practised as an emergency department physican, hospitalist and surgical assistant, primarily at the local hospital.

She currently works in a COVID-19 screening unit and provides medical coverage to psychiatry in-patients at a mental health centre in Penetanguishene.

Her advocacy work has focused on physician mental health and well-being.


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