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Ontario Premier Doug Ford, second from left, shakes hands with Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, left, following a press conference with New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, right, and Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King after meeting with the Maritime premiers in Moncton, N.B. on Monday, August 22, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren CalabreseDarren Calabrese/The Canadian Press

The premiers of Ontario and the Maritimes are pledging to uproot the “status quo” of health care delivery to tackle pressures facing the provinces.

The four premiers met in Moncton on Monday to discuss the challenges plaguing health care systems across the country with increasing hospital waiting times and critical staffing shortages forcing the temporary closing of some emergency departments.

After the meeting, the four provincial leaders of Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island signalled that health care delivery in their provinces will need to be done differently, but didn’t offer any new specifics on their plans.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the provinces want to work together to come up with a solution for the whole country, but urged the federal government to increase funding. The provinces have long been calling on Ottawa to raise transfer payments from 22 per cent to 35 per cent of health care spending, which they say would equal an annual increase of $28-billion.

“Doing the same thing over and over again, throwing a billion dollars at a solution and keeping the status quo is just not working,” he said. “We’re going to come up with a strong solution that works for everyone in Canada, but again we can’t do it alone, we need the support of the federal government.”

During his two-day trip to the East Coast, Mr. Ford said he also had a “phenomenal conversation” with federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and called for a dialogue with him and all the premiers.

All of the country’s premiers met last month at the Council of the Federation meeting in Victoria, where the main call was more money from Ottawa for health care. At the time, Mr. LeBlanc said provinces would need to match any additional funding from the federal government and there would be parameters around where the money is spent.

Responding to the calls for more funding, Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians co-chair of public affairs Alan Drummond said “money wouldn’t be the solution” to the problems in hospitals. He said there needs to be urgency to retain health care workers still in the system and entice those who have left to return, by solving crowding issues, increasing pay and addressing violence and abuse against health care staff. Dr. Drummond is an emergency physician at Perth Hospital in eastern Ontario, where the emergency department closed for three weeks in July because of a nursing shortage.

“Throw money at it but it’s not going to solve these underlying problems,” he said.

On potential changes to the health care system, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said “all options are on the table” for his province, including looking to a recent plan in Ontario to use more private facilities for publicly funded operations and procedures.

Last week, Mr. Ford’s government unveiled the second phase of its “Plan to Stay Open,” which includes boosting the number of operations at existing private clinics as well as legislation that would allow for elderly patients to be moved into a long-term care home not of their choosing to free up hospital beds.

Ontario Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra said Monday that the government’s new legislation would not force any patients out of hospital and that no one would be sent to any home with four-person rooms, as the Opposition NDP has warned. This type of older and more crowded home has been identified as a danger where COVID-19 can more easily spread.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Calandra repeatedly pointed to a clause in the legislation that forbids the use of physical restraint to transfer a patient without their consent. The legislation does empower hospitals to sign up a patient in a long-term care home despite any objections. But he said it will still require the patient’s “final consent.”

“It’s very clear what this legislation does. It allows us to continue conversations that would have otherwise been stopped,” he said, allowing hospital staff to present other options for patients while waiting for the home they have chosen when they no longer need hospital care.

NDP MPP Wayne Gates argued the bill won’t help hospitals facing crises in their emergency rooms, since most of these elderly patients are being cared for by personal support workers, not ER nurses and doctors.

“This is not going to free up one nurse, it’s not going to free up one doctor,” Mr. Gates said.

Further regulatory details, including how far away from their preferred home a patient may be placed, haven’t been released. Mr. Calandra said if the bill is passed, the accompanying regulations would be expected within a week.

With a report from Jeff Gray

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