- from the desk of MPP Jim McDonell
Friday, Nov. 20th - The persistent rise of COVID-19 cases in the Province of Ontario has required the Ontario government to re-define coding levels. On Monday, November 16, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit re-entered orange-restrict from the previous yellow-protect. It, along with other areas of the province, had a short period of relaxed conditions. Still, after considering local needs and consulting with our local Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, stronger restrictions were deemed necessary. The latest COVID-19 requirements can be found at https://covid-19.ontario.ca/.
If we respect these restrictions, there is every expectation that we can return to a yellow-protect category or better. The need to modify the coding is the latest example of the government's willingness to adapt as the pandemic evolves. Dr. Roumeliotis and other experts across Ontario and Canada continue to watch the latest local, provincial and national trends to develop our way forward. Their diligence is crucial for government agencies to respond effectively. Our commitment is probably more important on a personal level. It requires simple tasks: social distance, wash your hands, wear a mask, and be tested and stay home if feeling unwell.
In the fall of each year comes our annual Flu vaccination campaign. Orders are required late the year before, and last year, our government significantly increased its order from suppliers to promote a more aggressive campaign. With the onset of COVID-19, medical experts expressed the need for people, especially seniors, to obtain the vaccination. Our government worked with suppliers, other provinces, and the federal government to increase this year's available supply by more than one million doses. A few weeks ago, the vaccination programs started at our local drug stores are now being supplemented through our local health unit's annual program. The EOHU will offer the flu shot by appointment at its offices, as well as a drive-through clinic where people can get the vaccine from the comfort of their car. You can call 613-933-1375 or 1 800 267-7120 to book your appointment. They are open to everyone, but priority will be given to people with young children, physical limitations, medical considerations or those with special needs. Residents must bring a piece of identification to their appointment.
The government continues to find ways to protect better agri-food and food chain workers from COVID-19. This week, Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Ernie Hardeman announced a comprehensive strategy, the result of consulting the agri-food industry and the health and labour ministries. It offers 35 different measures to stop the virus from arriving on the farm, containing it on the farm and protecting farmers living in on-site housing.
During Question Period this week, I had the privilege of asking the Minister of Transportation, Caroline Mulroney, about the new Ontario 511 app to help drivers across the province safely get to their destination. The Ontario government is expanding the 511 app to include new winter driving features that will provide drivers and the trucking industry with additional information to support safer route planning when travelling on provincial highways. The additional features include Track My Plow, information on road conditions, weather warnings from Environment Canada, and up-to-date information on rest areas across the province. The app is available free on the App Store and Google Play. It is quick and easy to download and makes traveling in Ontario stress free. I encourage everyone to try out this new state-of-the-Art app.
As always, I want to remind everyone to stay safe.
Thursday, Dec. 3rd - The Ontario government is investing more than $115 million to support 850 patients across the province with high, complex care needs access services in the comfort of their own homes, while also expanding virtual care options for patients across the province. This funding is part of the province's COVID-19 fall preparedness plan, Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19, which will enable the province to respond to future surges and waves of the virus, while preserving hospital capacity.
Details were provided today by Premier Doug Ford and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.
"With today's modern medical advances and technology, and with the help of our dedicated nurses and personal support workers, we are ready to provide quality care for patients in their own homes and in their communities," said Premier Ford. "This kind of care is not only critical to keeping patients safe and healthy during COVID-19, but also part of our government's ongoing commitment to end hallway health care and ensure our hospitals are not overwhelmed."
The new High Intensity Supports at Home program helps patients with high care needs transition from a hospital back to their home or community setting with the right supports, also known as alternate level of care patients. This program provides integrated, team-based care where multiple types of services are wrapped around the patient. This can include up to 11 hours a day of personal support services and nursing services per patient. Other community services may include Meals on Wheels, homemaking and transportation to medical appointments.
With this investment, the province will add more capacity in hospitals, provide approximately 484,000 nursing and therapy visits, and approximately 1.4 million personal support worker hours.
"Our government is making it easier and faster for patients to access high-quality care at home," said Minister Elliott. "Connecting patients with the care they need, when and where they need it will help keep Ontarians healthy and avoid unnecessary visits and stays at the hospital. This program will help ensure Ontario's hospitals have the capacity needed to address those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic."
As part of Ontario's continued response to the COVID-19 outbreak and in alignment with the Digital First for Health Strategy, Ontario is investing $14.5 million to support the expansion of virtual care for Ontario Health Teams and frontline home and community care service providers. Ontario has seen a significant increase in the number of visits provided virtually across Ontario. This investment will equip health care providers with the support needed to sustain current capacity and improve the quality of care delivered virtually.
“Remote and rural area regions, such as Eastern Ontario, where access to care is more challenging, will also benefit greatly,” said Jim McDonell, MPP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry.
An investment of $9.5 million will go towards remote patient monitoring programs delivered by various health care organizations, including Ontario Health Team member organizations like hospitals. This will support the delivery of remote patient care, monitoring and symptom management at home to support COVID-19 patients and other vulnerable populations. The implementation of these remote patient monitoring programs will allow patients to connect virtually with a health care provider for routine checkups, symptom monitoring, referral to other providers, and escalation where necessary to a virtual or in-person medical assessment.
As part of this funding, $5 million will be invested in virtual home and community care capacity by providing funding directly to frontline home and community care service providers. This investment will help purchase technologies for video conferencing, remote monitoring and secure messaging that will enable care to continue to be delivered at home, minimizing face-to-face visits where appropriate, and keeping clients and families out of the hospital.
These investments will offer more choices in how patients receive care and make health care simpler, easier and more convenient, while allowing patients to continue accessing the routine health care services they need throughout the pandemic.
The government continues to build a better, more connected healthcare system through the creation of Ontario Health Teams, which are bringing together health care providers to work as one team to improve patient outcomes. Through an Ontario Health Team, patients will experience easier transitions from one provider to another, including, for example, between hospitals and home care providers, with one patient story, one patient record and one care plan. Patients and families will also have access to 24/7 navigation and care coordination services. Forty-two Ontario Health Teams have been approved to date.
Thursday, Dec. 3rd - The Ontario government is again providing financial relief for families facing new education-related expenses in the COVID-19 era with support totalling $380 million. Starting today, parents or guardians residing in Ontario can complete a simple online application through the Support for Learners web page. Applications will remain open until January 15, 2021.
The new Support for Learners program will provide direct one-time payments to help offset additional learning costs, whether their children attend school in person, online or a mix of both. Funds can assist with additional education expenses during COVID-19, such as workbooks, school supplies, technology and developmental resources. The funding also assists with additional childcare costs, whether the child is in child care or at home. This initiative is part of the 2020 Budget, Ontario's Action Plan: Protect, Support, Recover.
The program was launched today by Premier Doug Ford, Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, and Rod Phillips, Minister of Finance, at the Civic Centre Resource Library in Vaughan.
"During this very difficult period, our parents have been the unsung heroes in the fight against COVID-19, whether it's screening their child before school or assisting them with remote learning," said Premier Ford. "Parents have been there for us, and our government will continue to be there for them. That's why we're providing additional payments to help families with some of the costs of learning and childcare as we battle the second wave of COVID-19."
"COVID-19 has imposed many costs on families in this province, which is why we are again providing financial support directly in the pockets of working parents," said Minister Lecce. "Our priority remains keeping schools safe and open, and supporting families every step of the way through this incredible challenge."
"Whether kids are attending school online, in-person, or a mix of both, every parent in Ontario is feeling the strain of COVID-19," said Minister Phillips, "We have heard from parents that new expenses to support their kid's education in this COVID-19 era are straining their pocketbooks. This $380 million investment in families builds on the $378 million provided to parents during the first wave of COVID-19. So, for example, an Ontario family with three children, including one with special needs, would receive $1,300 this year to help cover the costs of an accessible workspace and technology to enable learning online. This is money well spent."
Parents or guardians residing in Ontario can complete one application per child to receive a one-time payment of:
• $200 for each child aged 0 to 12; or
• $250 if their child or youth is aged 0 to 21 with special needs
The government is committed to expanding support for those who need it most. Support for Learners is available to parents if their child is attending a publicly funded, private, First Nation operated or federally operated school (either in-person or online), is homeschooled, is enrolled in child care, or is at home.
This investment is in addition to the initial $378 million investment the government provided in Ontario's Action Plan: Responding to COVID‑19, released in March, which assisted parents while Ontario schools and childcare centres were closed during the first wave of the COVID‑19 pandemic.
“I am confident parents will get significant pocketbook relief for at-home learning costs and child care through the Support for Families and Support for Learners programs,” said Jim McDonell, MPP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry.
Ontario's Action Plan: Protect, Support, Recover is the next phase of a comprehensive action plan to respond to the serious health and economic impacts of COVID-19.
Friday, Nov. 27th - The Ontario government has deployed new COVID-19 rapid tests to provide faster results in regions of high transmission and rural and remote areas. As an additional tool to help keep essential workers safe, rapid tests will also be used to screen staff in long-term care homes and select workplaces. These new tests will provide Ontarians with more access to innovative testing options and will help to quickly identify and manage outbreaks to stop the spread of COVID-19.0.
"These new rapid tests are gamechangers in the fight against COVID-19," said Ontario Premier Doug Ford. "This new technology can provide test results in hours, even minutes, instead of days. We're deploying them as quickly as possible to protect patients, long-term care residents, and the frontline heroes who care for them. These new tools will ensure that Ontario remains the leader in testing in Canada to help stop the spread of this deadly virus."
Ontario has received approximately 98,000 ID NOW tests that are initially being used in hospitals and assessment centres in rural and remote communities, as well as to test people as part of early outbreak investigations in hotspot regions where there are high concentrations of COVID-19 cases. Two hospitals are using ID NOW, with 20 additional hospitals preparing to launch rapid testing. Hospitals will be able to test people, such as staff and patients, who are either symptomatic or have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
"Our government strongly advocated for the approval of these rapid tests to help provide timely access to testing for Ontarians who need it the most," said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, "These tests are helping to improve access to testing in our most underserved communities and allow us to better detect and contain any outbreaks. We are continuously working to expand our testing capacity and evaluate new and emerging technologies to provide safe testing options for a greater number of people."
ID NOW tests continue to be distributed in Simcoe Muskoka, Southwestern Ontario and Eastern Ontario, and the program will be expanded to other areas of the province beginning in December. Continued rollout of this test is planned for in Toronto and Peel and work is underway with Ontario Health and local public health units to support rapid testing deployment across the province. Ontario also continues to work closely with Toronto Public Health and Peel Regional Health Unit to bring rapid testing into the regions' outbreak response, using rapid testing to help with early identification and investigation of outbreaks.
The province has also received 1.2 million Panbio rapid antigen tests that will support a screening program for long-term care homes and other workplaces. To date, Panbio tests have been deployed to six long-term care operators for potential deployment in over 30 long-term care homes, 27 retirement homes, eight hospitals, and 11 industry partners such as Ontario Power Generation, Air Canada and Magna, with plans to expand further across province. Ontario is expecting to receive up to 1.5 million more Panbio tests by the end of December.
Over the next number of weeks, select long-term care homes will use the Abbott Panbio rapid antigen tests to help inform future deployment across the sector.
"Since day one of COVID-19, our top priority has been to protect the health and well-being of Ontarians, including long-term care residents," added Minister Fullerton. "These rapid tests can help long-term care homes get results immediately allowing them to act faster to prevent COVID-19 from entering the home."
Panbio tests will also be used in a broader eight-week pilot for participating employers in the private, public and non-profit sectors, prioritizing access for health care settings, essential frontline settings, and congregate settings. This pilot program is an important opportunity to learn about the value of antigen screening for asymptomatic workers in a range of workplace settings and will inform future decisions about safely and fully re-opening the economy. Participating employers would cover associated costs of delivering antigen rapid tests including human resource expenses and ensure testing follows guidelines as set by the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
The province continues to ensure that anyone who needs a test can get a test and receive their results as quickly as possible. Anyone who falls within the current Provincial Testing Guidance should continue to seek publicly funded testing, available at participating pharmacies and assessment centres. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, you should get tested at an assessment centre.
Ontario providing additional funding to enhance safety . . .
Initiatives Include Voluntary Testing . . .
Friday, Nov. 27th - The Ontario government is providing $13.6 million to enable school boards to hire more teachers and staff in regions recently moved to the Red-Control level and providing stabilization funding for school boards, if needed. The province is also expanding testing in school communities and launching new online learning portals. These initiatives will enhance safety measures for schools and alleviate potential budget shortfalls during COVID-19.
Details were provided today by Premier Doug Ford and Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education.
"Ensuring the safety of students, teachers and staff is our government's top priority. That's why we developed the most robust and comprehensive plan in the country to safely reopen schools," said Premier Ford. "This plan is now giving us the flexibility to expand voluntary testing and provide additional funding to support all of our school boards in priority communities."
Ontario is launching targeted voluntary testing of asymptomatic students and staff in regions of the province which currently have a high number of active COVID-19 cases. The Ministry of Education, along with the Ministry of Heath and Ontario Health, are working with participating school boards and local public health units to support implementation. This initiative will make it easier to track and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools. It may also inform public health decisions and help to manage outbreaks.
This new effort will be complemented by funding for school safety in high priority regions, with Ontario allocating $13.6 million for school boards in Durham, Halton, Hamilton and Waterloo Region in response to the increase in COVID-19 cases in these communities. This funding is part of the government's comprehensive $1.3 billion plan to safely reopen classrooms across the province, including additional resources to help school boards hire more staff, keep class sizes low, and enhance cleaning in schools.
This $13.6 million will further enhance safety by: promoting physical distancing with the hiring of more teachers and staff; increasing remote learning supports; and improving cleanliness with the hiring of additional custodians. This funding builds on the $35 million in extra supports provided for schools in Toronto, Peel, York, and Ottawa regions back in October.
For school boards across the province, the government is also providing funding stabilization to help alleviate some of the impacts of unexpected enrolment declines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This funding stabilization responds to potential school board budget shortfalls and will help provide flexibility for school boards to address a range of unanticipated funding issues. Without this funding stabilization, school boards could face staffing reductions, increased class sizes and cuts to programs and student supports.
"We are building upon our plan to protect students, staff, and families by expanding funding, testing, and training, along with interactive learning supports, to keep our schools open and safe," said Minister Lecce. "Expanding targeted testing will introduce a critical layer of prevention for schools in regions of the province that currently have a high number of active COVID-19 cases that will help ensure we continue to deliver safe and open schools for our kids."
As part of our ongoing efforts to provide high quality remote learning resources, the government is also announcing the launch of two new learning portals developed in partnership with TVO and TFO. TVO Learn and TFO's IDÉLLO, apprendre à la maison will support students who are self-screening, quarantining at home, or wishing to build their skills by accessing additional educational resources developed by Ontario certified teachers. These portals provide engaging and interactive ways to support children and further their learning from home in the Grades 1 to 8 Ontario curriculum. These resources can be used on their own, or to support learning activities provided by classroom teachers. New resources and additional subjects will be added throughout the school year.
The Ministry of Education is also developing a health and safety refresher for students for their first day of class in January 2021. The refresher will include a focus on COVID-19 safety protocols, including hand hygiene and proper masking. The refresher will also discuss the importance of mental health and tips to support mental health and wellness.
Earlier this summer, Ontario unveiled one of the nation's most comprehensive plans for the safe reopening of schools in September. The plan provides resources to hire more teachers and increase physical distancing, supports the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), enhanced cleaning of schools and buses, improving air quality, hiring of more custodians, and adding school leadership positions and administrative support for virtual schools. The province is also providing funding to public health units to support the hiring of 625 school-focused nurses, while establishing a mandatory masking policy for Grades 4 to 12.
Conservation Authorities - Op-Ed
by Jim McDonell
Thursday, Nov. 26th - Conservation Authorities were created by the province in 1946 to improve poor land, water and forestry practices that had led to drought, flooding, erosion, and deforestation as well as to create jobs following the war. However, over the years their time and resources have been split across the new and additional programs and services they now provide.
Conservation authorities play a frontline role in protecting residents and property from the impacts of natural hazards, like flooding and erosion. Changes in our climate are bringing on more intense and unpredictable storm events which can threaten our homes, properties and communities.
Ontarians need to know that our conservation authorities are focusing their resources on core programs and services that manage the risk of natural hazards, protect sources of drinking water, and manage conservation-authority owned lands that contain many sensitive natural features. That’s our goal, and that was the commitment our government made two years ago in our Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan.
After almost two years of consultations, our government has proposed a series of changes that would, if passed, improve the management, oversight and accountability of conservation authorities, while respecting taxpayer dollars by giving municipalities more say over the conservation authority programs and services they may pay for.
As the managers of the local public purse, it’s important that municipalities have a clear understanding of which programs and services provided by conservation authorities are required and which are discretionary for the municipality to decide to fund. Our proposed changes require that conservation authority board members be elected municipal councillors who should generally act in the best interest of their municipalities to allow local governments to take a more active role in determining local priorities.
We’re also proposing to streamline conservation authority permitting to increase accountability, consistency and transparency. We want to ensure a consistent approach for landowners, the agricultural sector and the building industry – allowing the province to step in in those limited circumstances where there are matters of provincial interest. With our proposed changes, conservation authorities could still provide advice/support to municipalities and the Province for appeals of Planning Act decisions - increasing accountability, consistency and transparency by streamlining the land use planning process through the one-window approach.
We know that many conservation authorities provide valuable recreational and educational programs and services that are important to the local community. While not core to their conservation authority mandates, we’ve ensured that these programs that have importance to the community are able to continue when they are funded through conservation authority self-generated revenue and/or by agreements with municipalities or other sources.
Now more than ever, in the face of a changing climate and other environmental, social and economic challenges, it is essential that public resources are focused first on protecting people and property. Later this fall, the government will begin consultation on regulations to ensure that we are listening to Ontarians all across our province. Through these changes, I am confident that we can arrive at a new approach to ensuring the value of conservation authorities that truly responds to the needs of the communities they serve.
* Information on our proposed changes can be found at https://www.ontario.ca/page/conservation-authorities.
Ontario announces 13 new Ontario health teams . . .
New approach improves patient outcomes . . .
Wednesday, Nov. 18th - The Ontario government is providing $2.4 million to support an additional 13 Ontario Health Teams across the province to provide better, connected care to patients. These teams are a new way of delivering care that brings together health care providers and organizations to work as one coordinated team to improve patient outcomes. This new collaborative model is helping the province respond more quickly and effectively to COVID-19 and end hallway health care.
"Today's investment will not only help our province respond more effectively to the current global pandemic, but it will also help us end hallway healthcare and build a better, patient-focused health care system for the future," said Premier Ford. "While these new teams will provide better support for more Ontarians, we won't stop until every person and every community in Ontario has access to this new improved model of care."
Through an Ontario Health Team, patients will experience easier transitions from one provider to another, including, for example, between hospitals, home care providers or long-term care homes, with one patient story, one patient record and one care plan. As Ontario Health Teams are established, patients and families will also have access to 24/7 navigation and care coordination services. This includes enabling the further expansion of virtual care for patients through dedicated funding to maintain access to care during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the addition of 13 new Ontario Health Teams, the province now has a total of 42 teams which will cover over 86 per cent of the province's population at maturity.
"While still in its early stages, Ontario Health Teams are already breaking down long-standing barriers to better connect care for both patients and our frontline heroes," said Minister Elliott. "These teams have demonstrated remarkable responsiveness to the COVID-19 outbreak by helping to address challenges in a variety of areas, and they are essential to building a connected health care system centred around the needs of patients."
The strong partnerships and integrated care established by Ontario Health Teams and Ontario Health have helped better position the province to respond quickly and effectively to COVID-19. This includes supporting long-term care homes, simplifying the purchase of personal protective equipment, helping establish assessment centres, launching virtual urgent care initiatives, and expanding remote patient monitoring programs to support COVID-19 patients and other vulnerable populations.
The Ontario Health Team model has already proven how a collaborative team can support each other in times of need such as when there is a significant outbreak at a long-term care home. These teams were able to come together and respond quickly to address staffing shortages; infection, protection and control measures; and support keeping residents and staff safe during COVID-19. These stronger partnerships between hospitals, primary care, home and community care and long-term care homes will create a connected health care system that focuses on the needs of patients and is a key recommendation by the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission.
"COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of continuous learning: the more we learn, the better we can protect ourselves, including our residents in long-term care," said Minister Fullerton. "The coordination of care through Ontario Health Teams is a significant collaborative initiative that supports our commitment to modernizing long-term care in Ontario."
Ontario Health Teams will help maintain hospital capacity by coordinating programs that link hospitals, primary care, home and community care services, long-term care homes, congregate settings, and other services, as well as supporting virtual care, online appointment booking and patients' digital access to their health information. It will also support the participation of patients, families and caregivers in Ontario Health Team's planning, decision-making and expanding the involvement of primary care and family medicine.
Betty-Lou Kristy, the Chair of the Minister's Patient and Family Advisory Council, assisted in the review process for selecting the new Ontario Health Teams and will provide ongoing advice to all teams. Meaningful engagement and partnership with patients, families and caregivers is a key requirement for Ontario Health Teams to ensure they achieve the goal of improving the way that Ontarians experience the health care system.
"As the health system changes and evolves, it is critical that new approaches to health care focus on what patients really need," said Ms. Kristy. "Ontario Health Teams can be part of the solution and improve how patients are treated throughout their health care journey. I look forward to supporting these teams to build a connected system centred on patients, their families and caregivers."
The Ontario government will continue working with its healthcare partners to establish Ontario Health Teams across the province and ensure everyone is supported by a team.
To further protect long-term care home residents, staff and visitors, the Ontario government is also updating testing guidance in communities with greater transmission of COVID-19. Starting next week, in long-term care homes in public health unit regions in the Orange-Restrict, Red-Control and Lockdown levels under the COVID-19 Response Framework, the following changes will be made:
Staff, essential caregivers and support workers who provide direct care to residents need to be tested for COVID-19 weekly and show proof of a negative test result.
Support workers who do not provide direct care to residents must verbally attest to having received a negative COVID-19 test result in the past two weeks and not subsequently tested positive.
For long-term care homes in regions at the Green-Prevent and Yellow-Protect levels, testing will continue every two weeks for staff, volunteers, caregivers and visitors.