ONTARIO – Manitoulin Community Response, Emergency Preparedness and Paramedicine Committee physician representative Dr. Maurianne Reade has furthered her call for advance funding for field hospitals and supportive care centres to upper levels of government, and continues to work with parliamentarians to advocate for these much-needed supports.
“There’s a concerning gap between rural and urban preparedness,” said Dr. Reade.
Manitoulin Health Centre (MHC) has completed the majority of the work in getting its field hospital to a standby state so it can be put into operation when its need arises. In a story in the May 27 Expositor, MHC VP of corporate support services and chief financial officer Tim Vine said the work was progressing well and the centre should be ready to meet any future surge demand on Manitoulin.
None of that preparatory work has been funded. The field hospital has been constructed using MHC’s reserves and internal human resources that are also required to cover the hospital’s daily needs and COVID-19 preparations.
The province has committed funds to field hospitals in hard-hit areas, but only when a surge arrives. This is less of a concern in urban centres where mass amounts of resources can be pooled for a quick turnaround, but would be much more difficult in rural locations.
For communities like Assiginack that have prepared non-hospital-affiliated supportive care centres for people who need a place to isolate but are not in need of urgent care, the constraints are tougher because of further limited resources.
Should rural places commit to providing services such as a field hospital or a community-run supportive care centre, they will have to begin the advance preparations using their own funds.
Society of Rural Physicians of Canada (SRPC) president Margaret Tromp issued a request to members for feedback on the federal government’s COVID-19 response from a rural perspective, to be sent to a Senate committee. Dr. Reade is a member of that society and decided to forward her concerns.
“I had seen the challenges that the communities were facing regarding getting funding for the isolation centres as gaps that didn’t seem to be getting much press, so I thought it’d be worthwhile to address that,” said Dr. Reade.
Unfortunately, when Dr. Tromp’s report reached the senate, Dr. Reade’s comments did not make the final cut. The report instead focused on two case studies of an Ontario and a Saskatchewan town.
Undeterred, Dr. Reade took her report from SRPC and forwarded it to Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha for his advocacy within the Ontario Legislative Assembly as well as Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes.
An issue beyond funding was the matter of insuring the community-led facilities. Manitoulin’s field hospital is a legal branch of MHC and falls within its insurance coverage but the supportive care centres at the community level do not enjoy such privilege.
“If you’re trying to enter a partnership as a township with, say, a motel owner, how can you help ensure the appropriate insurance is covered?” said Dr. Reade. “If there were some clearer provincial guidelines or directives about that, it could help those partnerships to happen without all the work being recreated over and over in every place.”
Ms. Hughes said she would pass the report on to MP colleague Don Davies, who is the NDP critic for Health in the federal Liberal minority government.
Dr. Reade added that Indigenous Services Canada might be wise to help fund supportive care centres in places like M’Chigeeng (which is also preparing a supportive care centre like Assiginack), given the high number of multi-generation households in reserves. This would help keep their vulnerable citizens safer, rather than waiting for a surge to ravage Island populations before funding these centres.
“Then, you qualify for funding at a time when it’s already too late to make the biggest impact. That’s something that would be very helpful for the federal government to consider to provide communities some sense of security,” said Dr. Reade.
Mr. Mantha said he would be pushing Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott to move quickly on these items.