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Ontario Medical Association releases 'prescription' for North

The OMA says the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated longstanding disparities.

THUNDER BAY — The Ontario Medical Association has released a list of a dozen recommendations aimed at addressing health care gaps in the province's North.

The action plan includes improving access to doctors, especially in specialties such as family medicine, emergency medicine and anesthesia.

The OMA's Prescription for Northern Ontario also addresses what it calls the profound and disproportionate impact of the opioid crisis and mental health issues, including inadequate numbers of mental health and addiction care providers, especially for children.

It singles out insufficient home and community care, among other problems, as well.

"Nowhere are the issues more critical than in northern Ontario," the plan released Monday states.

It's part of the OMA's larger master plan Prescription for Ontario, which provides 75 provincewide recommendations over the next four years.

The association represents 43,000 doctors.

In preparing the document, it consulted with more than 1,600 physicians and physician leaders, hospital representatives, nurses, patient advocacy groups, labour unions and various other stakeholders.

It also heard from almost 8,000 Ontarians through an online public survey.

More than half the responses from northern Ontario indicated the way health care is delivered in their community has become worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The top issues identified in the North were wait times and the need for more doctors.

More than half the respondents from northern Ontario also gave their local health care system a C on a scale of A, B, C or F.  More than a quarter gave it a failing grade.

Other concerns that emerged from the study included the lack of high-speed internet service and unreliable connectivity limiting the availability of virtual health care, and unsafe drinking water and inadequate health-care facilities and resources in First Nation communities.

Among its recommendations, the OMA calls for an updating of incentives and supports for doctors and allied health-care workers to practise in northern Ontario, creating more opportunities for specialists to undertake electives and core rotations in the North, and focusing on education, training and innovation for collaborative care to address doctor shortages.

It also recommends culturally-sensitive education and training opportunities to mitigate shortages in rural and remote communities.

Dr. Sarita Verma, president of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, said "Social isolation of Indigenous communities...and the inequities experienced by Indigenous peoples, have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Our inequity bathtub in northern Ontario was nine-tenths full before COVID, and now it is overflowing."

OMA President Dr. Adam Kassam spoke at a news conference at the NOSM campus in Sudbury.

He said agreed that the pandemic has made northern disparities in health care more visible "and the need for solutions more urgent."

With a provincial election less than a year away, the OMA is urging all political parties to adopt its recommendations as part of their platforms.

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