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Alliance for Healthier Communities' 2021 Ontario Budget Submission: Video and text


This is the full text of the Alliance's 2021 Ontario Budget submission, as presented to the government earlier this year:

The Alliance for Healthier Communities is a coalition of community led primary health care organizations operating across Ontario. Our network represents 106 Community Health Centres, Aboriginal Health Access Centres, Community Family Health Teams and Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinics. Our members have played a pivotal role in Ontario’s COVID 19 pandemic response, Our members have demonstrated their ability to help the province meet the complex challenge of COVID-19 -- from serving as trusted mobile testing sites to meeting the needs of isolated seniors at home – and to collaborate with others, including in Ontario Health Teams, with a focus on their critical expertise in health equity and community wellbeing.

We are thankful for the province’s investment in the COVID High Priority Communities Strategy and hope you look to this program for evidence of the strong, trusted work that our members do in community, and consider this a template for future investments in our work all across the province. To support the sustainability and growth of health equity through comprehensive primary healthcare in Ontario, we are looking for the following investments in Ontario’s 2021 Provincial Budget:

 1.      Fund digital equity and end the 12-year wait for base funding increases

Our most pressing need is an immediate injection of funding to help community health organizations sustain their work meeting community needs in real time. Our ability to continue this work is at risk because our members have not seen a base funding increase in more than a dozen years. This money is needed to keep the lights on, maintain critical infrastructure and pay the rent. It is also vital to support our leading work on digital equity – providing health and social services to people who face barriers both to getting online through broadband and digital devices, and to accessing safe and trusted services that meet their needs and keep them out of Ontario’s hospitals when those hospitals preoccupied with the COVID-19 crisis. In addition, privacy and security costs for this work continue to rise in our increasingly digital healthcare environment.

Our long wait for adequate funding means we’ve fallen well behind the cost of living and need $30 million, annualized, for a 5 percent base increase plus $10.3 million annualized for technology costs. This much-needed investment will support Alliance members to continue their work at the forefront of health equity and integrated care in Ontario.

2.      Take a comprehensive approach to mental health

COVID-19 has negatively impacted the mental health of people across Ontario. It has contributed to increasing isolation and intensified stress on people living with addictions. Now more than ever, urgent action is needed to address mental health and addictions care. Families and caregivers are under incredible strain, with little access to community based and accessible resources. At the same time, more people are dying from drug poisoning and the opioid overdose crisis. Community Health Centres, Aboriginal Health Access Centres, Nurse Practitioner Led Clinics and Community Family Health Teams have long offered health promotion, community development, social services and mental health services as part of comprehensive primary healthcare. Our sector provides complex mental health and addictions care. We also need to act now to recognize comprehensive primary health care providers as mental health agencies in the right position to address the opioid overdose crisis. Community led organizations have the expertise to provide this care and link people living with addictions to wrap around care.  Despite this, we are excluded from the tables where mental health decisions and investments are made. We request to be recognized for our work as mental health service providers and supported with a $5M investment in primary care approaches to mental health with a focus on harm reduction and safe supply.

3.      Fund a Provincial Black Health Strategy

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the physical, mental and economic health of Black Ontarians. We need to mandate the collection of sociodemographic and race-based data across the health system, create anti-Black racism and cultural safety training for all healthcare practitioners, and listen to Black communities regarding how to use data and targeted investments to reduce this stark health gap.

Black Health leaders in community health organizations have been at the forefront of leadership on racial equity for many years, and in particular during this year of pandemic inequities and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement. They are experienced, connected experts who are well positioned to help lead this work. A $3 million investment would support the province in scaling up existing programs, investing in cultural safety training for health and social service workers, and developing updated interventions to close the gaps in healthcare to Black communities.

4.      Address the social determinants of health during COVID-19, starting with paid sick days

COVID has reminded Ontarians of how important work, income, social connection and racism are as social determinants of our health (SDOH) that together contribute to over 80% of our health status. We need to link more people with community health organizations that address SDOH through a comprehensive approach to primary healthcare. We also have an urgent need for provincially mandated paid sick days to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and to support workers and their families. Workplaces are a key site of COVID-19 transmission and we have yet to provide the necessary supports that help people take time off work to be tested for COVID, and stay home and self-isolate when exposed or diagnosed with the virus.

Thursday, February 18, 2021