Home Child Health Children’s health leaders hopeful after implicit promise in budget

Children’s health leaders hopeful after implicit promise in budget

Children’s health leaders hopeful after implicit promise in budget

Those health officials hope to meet with provincial representatives as soon as this coming week to hammer out details.

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They are just 17 words contained in a 187-page budget, but children’s health officials are optimistic they represent a new direction for pediatric health care in Ontario.

“We are hoping those 17 words will equal hundreds of millions of dollars for children’s health in Ontario,” CHEO President and CEO Alex Munter said.

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The words: “Every child in Ontario should be able to get the care they need, when they need it,” were contained in Thursday’s Ontario budget.

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Although there were no specifics attached to those words, Munter and other pediatric health leaders are optimistic they represent a response for their call to “right-size” children’s health care with funding that meets population growth and needs.

The Children’s Health Coalition, which includes CHEO and other pediatric health institutions across Ontario, released a comprehensive plan last fall to eliminate backlogs in care in children’s hospitals, child and youth mental health agencies and children’s rehabilitation centres, which have long been underfunded, according to officials.

That plans calls for an investment of $357 million annually over the next four years to ensure children have timely access to the health services they need.

Currently in Ontario, more than 8,300 children are waiting for surgeries, 9,500 children are waiting for ambulatory clinic visits and 28,000 children are waiting for mental health treatment. Meanwhile, children’s hospitals are seeing two and a half times as many emergency visits for eating disorders as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Munter said the government’s commitment to invest in children’s health care was “pedianomics in action and will pay dividends for generations to come.”

Children’s health officials hope to meet with provincial officials as soon as this coming week to hammer out details.

“I think it is a recognition that, in most parts of Ontario for most types of care, kids wait longer than adults for that care and that is something that needs to be fixed,” Munter said.

CHEO has already received an increase in some permanent funding from the province. More permanent funding for acute care beds, among other investments, came through while the hospital was dealing with an unprecedented respiratory viral surge last fall, overwhelming its resources.

CHEO now has 19 additional critical-care beds with eight mental health beds coming on line this year.

“We are making progress, but we have a lot of work to do,” Munter said.

Among other things, children’s health funding has not kept up with population growth. Within CHEO’s catchment area, the population of children and youth has grown at nine times the provincial rate.

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The Make Kids Count action plan calls for funding to provide timely access to acute care and an investment in innovative hospital and community programs to alleviate pressure on hospitals and make sure children receive care “in the right place and the right time.”

Munter said children’s hospitals across the province already had innovative models in place to improve access to care. Among them is a partial hospitalization program for children and youth with eating disorders, offering treatment during the day at CHEO, but allowing children to go home at night so they can connect with their families and sleep in their own beds.

“There are a lot of innovative models of care,” he said. “We have to find new and better ways to deliver care. The risk to kids of waiting too long is a risk to their development, to their health and the health of their families.”

Munter noted that the action plan amounted to less than 0.4 per cent of the provincial health budget.

“There are adequate funds to implement our plan,” he said. “We are ready to go. We are pleased to see this explicit callout in the budget saying children’s access to health care is a priority. I can’t remember a statement that clear in a budget.”

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