The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light the pressing need for an improved crisis plan in Ontario. Stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE) were depleted or expired, emergency protocols were under-developed and out-of-date and the province’s health care system was chronically underfunded and understaffed.
At the outset of the pandemic, the government took immediate action by creating more than 3,100 new and additional hospitals beds and investing an additional $1.8 billion in hospitals. In addition, the government launched the $50 million Ontario Together Fund to help businesses retool to manufacture critical supplies and PPE for families and frontline workers. Since the beginning of the pandemic, total investments in hospitals have grown to $5.1 billion and investments in the Ontario Together fund have doubled to $100 million.
A Plan To Stay Open, which includes the Pandemic and Emergency Preparedness Act, 2022, expands on policies and measures already in place to ensure the province is able to stay open by building a stronger, more resilient health care system that is better able to respond to crisis. It promises to attract and retain more doctors, nurses and personal support workers, shore-up the domestic production of critical supplies and continue building vital health care infrastructure.
“The legislation passed today will provide the tools to equip Ontario to fight any future pandemic or threat to the lives and livelihoods of Ontarians,” said Prabmeet Sarkaria, President of the Treasury Board. “Never again will we allow Ontario to be in the precarious position it was in before the pandemic. The Pandemic and Emergency Preparedness Act, 2022, builds on our government’s strong commitment to the health and safety of all Ontarians and our desire to give Ontarians the confidence and security of knowing that when a future pandemic emerges, Ontario will be ready.”
As part of A Plan to Stay Open, the government is fulfilling its commitment to make the wage increase for publicly-funded PSWs and DSWs permanent, including by investing $893 million in 2022-23. This permanent wage enhancement includes an additional $3 per hour for approximately 50,000 eligible workers in long-term care, and $3 per hour for approximately 60,000 eligible workers in children, community and social services providing personal direct support services to those who need assistance with the activities of daily living.
These changes will benefit over 158,000 PSWs and DSWs who deliver publicly funded services in home and community care, long-term care, public hospitals and social services. The permanent wage enhancement will help to stabilize, attract and retain the workforce needed to provide a high level of care during the COVID-19 pandemic and to continue these important supports in the long-term recovery from the pandemic. The government intends to file a regulation under this legislation shortly to make the temporary wage enhancement for PSWs and DSWs permanent.
“We are grateful for personal and direct support workers who continue to work tirelessly to ensure that our loved ones receive the care and support they need,” said Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. “We are delivering on our promise to make the wage enhancement permanent, and I am proud that, under the leadership of Premier Ford, our government is taking action to ensure Ontario is prepared for the future.”
Expanding Ontario’s Health Workforce
The cornerstone of A Plan to Stay Open and the Pandemic and Emergency Preparedness Act, 2022, are innovative measures to recruit and retain more doctors, nurses and PSWs to the province’s health system. The Plan, and accompanying legislation will:
- Make it easier and quicker for foreign-credentialled health workers to begin practicing in Ontario by reducing barriers to registering with and being recognized by health regulatory colleges.
- Invest $142 million to launch the new “Learn and Stay” grant.
- Train more doctors through the largest expansion of medical school education in over 10 years.
- Invest an additional $41.4 million annually to support the clinical education component in Ontario’s nursing education programs to further support the next generation of health care workers.
“Throughout the pandemic, our health care workers have been on the frontlines, providing exceptional care and keeping our communities safe,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “With the legislation passed today, we are delivering on our commitment to build a stronger, more resilient health care system so that Ontario will be better prepared to respond to future crises.”
Shoring-up Domestic Production of Critical Supplies
By promoting and supporting Ontario manufacturing and innovation, the province is now producing a wide variety of PPE and critical supplies and equipment (CSE), including N95 respirators at a newly expanded 3M facility in Brockville, with 93 per cent of the forecasted PPE spend for the next 18 months with Ontario or Canadian sources.
In addition to these measures, the Plan and legislation, will:
- Leverage the province’s extensive manufacturing capability wherever possible to maintain a healthy stockpile of quality PPE and CSE, which could help strengthen PPE and CSE supply chains and ensure the preparedness and the safety and security of Ontarians in non-emergency times and in times of crisis.
- Ensure a safe and stable food supply by requiring regular reports on the province’s security of food supply and contingency planning, including surge capacity for food inspection in an emergency.
- 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.
- Implement a life sciences strategy that will support early-stage companies, attract new investment and encourage early adoption of Ontario-made innovations in our hospitals and health system.
Building More Hospital Beds
Through the Plan, the government will implement a capital plan expansion with more than 50 major projects that would add 3,000 new beds over 10 years and 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 adult, paediatric and neonatal critical care beds.
Additionally, the Pandemic and Emergency Preparedness Act, will strengthen emergency oversight and coordination by:
- Establishing a clearer accountability and governance framework for emergencies;
- Legislating the requirement for 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.