In the last few weeks, the provincial government has announced new initiatives that will most likely form part of their platform heading into the provincial election on June 2nd. Just yesterday, the government released two new initiatives and we have captured the key points below.
Ontario’s Plan to Stay Open
On March 29th the Honourable Prabmeet Sarkaria - President of the Treasury Board, the Honourable Christine Elliott - Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, and the Honourable Jill Dunlop - Minister of Colleges and Universities, announced Ontario’s Plan to Stay Open. An integral part of this plan is the Pandemic and Emergency Preparedness Act, 2022; a multi-ministry legislative bundle that includes a number of measures designed to expand Ontario’s health workforce, increase Ontario’s preparedness for crises through shoring-up production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and critical supplies, as well as creating more hospital beds. Collectively, this plan aims to address the gaps that left Ontario vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic and required lockdowns of the economy to protect our health care capacity.
Key highlights of the Plan and proposed legislation include:
Expand Ontario’s Health Workforce
- Launch the “Learn and Stay” Grant: The program will provide nurse graduates with either full tuition reimbursement in exchange for committing to practice in an underserved community or will provide nursing students with full upfront funding for tuition, books and other direct educational costs to students who commit to stay in their region working in an underserved community for up to two years after graduating.
- Reducing registration barriers for foreign-credentialed medical professionals: The government is proposing legislative amendments to the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991 (RHPA), that would reduce barriers for individuals seeking to be registered with the health regulatory colleges, including internationally trained professionals. The legislation would prohibit regulatory colleges from requiring Canadian work experience as a qualification for registration, subject to any exemptions provided for in accompanying regulation.
- Making the PSW wage enhancement permanent: The government is proposing legislation that would allow for a regulation to enable a permanent wage enhancement for personal support workers (PSWs) and direct support workers (DSWs).
- Expanding medical schools: The government is adding 295 postgraduate positions and 160 undergraduate medical school seats over the next five years. The new seats will be added across all six medical schools in Ontario.
- Investing in clinical education: The government is investing an additional $41.4 million annually to support the clinical education component in Ontario’s nursing education programs.
Shoring-up Domestic Production of Critical Supplies
- Ensuring a long-term, transparent stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE): The Bill will ensure there is a robust supply of PPE and critical supplies and equipment (CSE) available in Ontario at all times. It will also prohibit the offer to sell or the sale of government-provided PPE and CSE that has been provided without charge or payment of a fee, preventing hoarding and protecting consumers from bad actors.
- Building a robust life sciences sector that improves patient outcomes: The government will release a life sciences strategy with a goal of addressing challenges that inhibit growth of Ontario companies and prevent Ontario made solutions from helping Ontario’s patients. The Strategy is also designed to address building capacity to build and buy made-in-Ontario health innovations.
- Keeping shelves stocked with essentials: The government is proposing amendments to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Act, which would specify that the ministry’s mandate includes providing advice and programming related to a safe and stable food supply. Amendments would also require the ministry to report on the Ontario food supply, which would include regular evaluations of the food supply system to ensure proper planning and emergency preparedness.
Building More Hospital Beds
- Creating new hospital spaces: The government will implement a capital plan expansion with more than 50 major projects that would add 3,000 new beds over 10 years. It will also invest to support the continuation of over 3,100 acute and post-acute beds in hospitals and alternate health care facilities, and hundreds of new adults, paediatric and neonatal critical care beds.
Other Preparedness Initiatives to Strengthen Emergency Oversight and Coordination:
- Better preparation for emergencies: Require the establishment of clear accountability and governance frameworks for emergencies. Also require the development of a provincial emergency management plan that is publicly available, reviewed and revised at least every five years, with an annual public report on progress of the plan. Enhance identification, assessment and planning requirements for potential emergency threats.
- Enhance health data and sharing: The government is introducing amendments to the Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004 (PHIPA) that would ultimately improve the sharing and security of personal health information within OHTs, while expecting that the privacy and security of the data continues to be protected. The government is also proposing a legislative amendment that would allow Ontario Health to specify the format of personal health information (PHI), along with existing requirements for data privacy and security under the PHIPA.
- High Priority Communities Strategy: The government is providing an additional $25 million to continue delivering access to testing, increasing vaccination rates and providing support such as connection to isolation centres, income and social supports in communities hard hit by the pandemic.
- Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) Hub Program: Maintain the local networks of Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) Hubs have been developed from across the health system to strengthen IPAC practices in community-based, congregate living settings such as long-term care homes, retirement homes and residential settings.
- Wastewater Surveillance Initiative: The government is investing an additional $24.7 million to sustain Ontario’s wastewater surveillance initiative over the coming year, while also learning more about how this approach could be used to detect other diseases of concern.
- Digitization of the Provincial Diagnostic Network. No further details were provided about this component at this time.
If passed, this Pandemic and Emergency Preparedness Act, 2022 and Plan will secure Ontario’s progress, monitor new health threats and protect the lives of Ontarians as the province moves to safely re-open and exit from the pandemic. The measures in the Plan aim to better prepare Ontario for future waves of COVID-19 or crises and pandemics.
Barring any unforeseen events or amendments, this legislation is positioned to pass before the house rises ahead of the June 2nd election.
Ontario Names Expert Panel to Expand Health and Benefits Coverage
In addition to the above and in continuation of the government’s efforts to support Ontarians, the Honourable Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, announced the appointment of five experts to the Portable Benefits Advisory Panel. Panel members represent different sectors with expertise in financial, legal, and labour issues, experience in the structure and administration of benefit plants and includes the perspective of those who do not currently have benefits.
The panel members include:
- Susan McArthur (Chair), Co-Founder and Executive Chair, LockDocs Inc.
- Sunil Johal, Vice President, Public Policy, CSA Group
- Brad Nicpon, Partner, McCarthy Tétrault
- Marlayna Perrone, Professional Sommelier, and advocate with first-hand experience working without benefits
- Allan Shapira, Senior Partner and Managing Director, Aon Wealth Solutions
The panel will be responsible for providing advice on the design and implementation of a portable benefits program for workers who fall outside of traditional employer provided benefits, such as those in part-time positions and contract workers. The panel is expected to submit a final report to the government by Summer 2023 with recommendations on how to best administer and implement these portable benefits.
While implementation of portable benefits will not occur until well after the next election, it signals that this government, if given a second mandate, is prepared to take steps to better protect workers, help Ontario businesses attract talent and better support worker mobility.
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