A lot has happened over the past several months and much has changed because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Since hitting Ontario, government has been all-hands-on-deck managing and responding to the current crisis. While the province has moved slowly through initial reopening stages, we know that this illness will be with us for some time to come. With a looming potential of a second wave top-of-mind for everyone, including government, a lot of what happens in the coming months will depend heavily on how the COVID-19 challenge evolves.
There are, however, some things that we can reasonably expect to see government move on when the Ontario Legislature resumes sitting on September 14, 2020.
The 2020 provincial budget was originally set to be tabled on March 25, 2020 but was postponed by the urgent and quickly-changing situation posed by COVID-19. Instead, government released Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19, which focused on addressing immediate financial needs and provided planning assumptions for the year ahead. At this time, government promised to provide Ontarians with a long-term outlook once the economic situation of the pandemic was assessed.
The government will release a multi-year budget by November 15, 2020. Although it is difficult to predict at this point what priorities and needs will influence the budget, we can expect that investments in health, particularly long-term care (LTC) and public health, will, at the very least, remain stable.
As we all well know, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the province’s LTC sector. This has prompted the government to double down on its commitment to “fix the broken LTC system,” and we can expect to see significant activity on the LTC file over the coming months.
The LTC Commission, established to review the long-term care system to get a better understanding of the impacts and responses to the COVID-19 outbreak, was launched this summer. The Premier has publicly stated that he is highly motivated to make changes in LTC and to complete the review and bring forward recommendations swiftly. Therefore, the work of the Commission is likely to move swiftly with its findings and recommendations potentially delivered as soon as early fall. Government action to implement at least some of the most immediate recommendations would follow quickly, possibly by the end of the fall session.
We can expect part of this action by the government to relate to staffing. Prior to the pandemic, theMLTC established the Long-Term Care Staffing Strategy Advisory Group to provide strategic advice on staffing in the LTC sector across the province. The work of the Advisory Group continued through the pandemic, with the long-standing staffing crisis emerging dramatically during the pandemic. The Ministries of Health and Long-Term Care have since been working together to ensure adequate staffing in both hospitals and LTC ahead of the upcoming flu season and a possible second wave of COVID-19. The government will want to demonstrate that they are beginning to address staffing issues at a minimum and working toward a more stable sector over the coming months. As such, we are likely to see at least some pieces of the Advisory Group’s work move into implementation through the fall.Likewise, as the government seeks to demonstrate that they are doing everything they can on LTC, we anticipate further announcements and commitments to help get new LTC beds built quickly.
Mental health has been a stated priority for this government since the beginning of its mandate. With a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety about both the present and the future, the pandemic has only further exacerbated Ontarians’ mental health needs. It is likely that we will see more on mental health through the fall session, including more details about previously announced programs and initiatives. We may also see further investments with consideration of the pandemic’s impacts, particularly in schools as they prepare to resume in a new shape in September.
Health Care Transformation
The government is unlikely to want to do anything major in health over the coming months unless it is in direct response to the COVID-19 situation. For this reason, it can be expected that the health sector will remain relatively stable over the coming months. That said, the government currently finds itself past the halfway point of its mandate and in the middle of its ambitious plans for health system transformation. Although temporarily stalled as a result of the pandemic, we have seen the government resume, slowly, to move forward on structural changes and establishing OHTs. Even this work is being done with a lens of COVID response and preparation.
One of the earliest learnings coming out of COVID-19 is the need for a more centralized and streamlined supply chain in Ontario so that critical supplies, such as PPE, are available when needed. While centralizing supply chains emerged as a consideration in the government’s health transformation agenda, we expect the government will be more motivated to push forward supply chain reforms in anticipation of a possible second wave of COVID-19.