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Regional access to health care in Ontario – Health Hint!

Regional access to health care in Ontario

Federated Health Charities’ mission is to improve the health and quality of life of all Ontarians by supporting 21 different health charities providing critical services to those experiencing, or affected by, illness.  We believe education and prevention are key parts of supporting the health of our communities. So our weekly Health Hint series strives to provide tangible and easy to implement hints and tips on how to maintain your health, prevent disease, and enjoy increased quality of life.  Check out our latest Health Hint on regional access to health care in Ontario.  We hope you find it helpful.  If you would like to join our efforts to support the health of Ontario please consider a donation to Federated Health Charities. 

Access to health care is a fundamental need for all Ontarians.  Availability and accessibility of care is not equitable for all though and one of the reasons why is location.  Access to health care is considerably less for those living in regional areas.  As we have seen over the past two years, it is critical for everyone in our province to have access to consistent, collaborative, and effective health care.  This article will speak about some initiatives being unrolled to ensure this is a reality for all Ontarians.

Ontario Health Teams: New integrative health care system

Ontario is working to build an integrated health care system focused on the needs of patients by announcing 8 new Ontario Health Teams (OHT)located in different areas of the province [1]. The province will spend up to $9 million in funding over the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 fiscal years to support these health teams to support health services and ensure that the health care system can respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ontario Health Teams offers a new approach to health care that brings together health care providers as one collaborative team. This means that there will exist one patient record, and one care plan that is shared between providers in various areas of the province. The initiatives that Ontario Health Teams will support include:

  • Local vaccine rollouts
  • Supporting long-term housing
  • Staffing assessment centres
  • Advancing virtual care
  • Addressing the needs of underserved communities

In response to COVID-19, OHT will prioritize improving care for people living with mental health and addiction challenges as well as residents requiring both home and community support. On top of this, this initiative will prioritize marginalized communities who are experiencing more adversities such as remote and/or rural areas experiencing homelessness.


Reality of access to the health care system in Ontario: Contrasting urban and rural areas in Ontario

There are contrasting levels of access to health care in urban and rural areas of Ontario. Due to low populations in various rural communities in Ontario, there is a significantunder sampling of rural areas. On top of this, there are only estimates of community health statuses at a regional level as well as data suppression in rural health research.

There exists different community profiles between different geographic locations in Ontario, as rural communities appear to have more diverse populations. For example, Northern Ontario contains 26% of the Francophone population. 40% of Indigenous population and a significant 106 out of 134 First Nation communities in Ontario.

The Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) reported that the self-rated health of Canadians declines from the most urban areas to the most rural and remote areas. This supports the notion that geographic location is an important determinant of health.The CCHS reveals that men and women living in rural towns have a lower health expectancy than the average Canadian. Rural residents report higher levels of being overweight, smoking, arthritis, high blood pressure and major depressive disorder.

Health services appear to be less accessible, available and comprehensive and present rural residents with more adversities. Residents report alimited availability and access to primary health care, specialists, hospitals, community services and support.

For individuals with mental illness, there exists even more barriers as there is a limited availability of primary health providers and psychiatrists. In many instances, individuals from rural and northern locations must travel to urban areas. This, to receive the appropriate services (mental health assessments and psychiatric services). Other barriers faced in rural and northern communities include:

  • Transportation
  • Workforce retention and recruitment
  • Lack of access to affordable housing
  • Population-based funding methodologies

Strategies/solutions to improve regional access to health care in Ontario

Collaborative care

Multidisciplinary health teams are being utilized to provide services for individuals with mental health needs due to a lack of psychiatric care. This includes an innovative and integrative approach involving community based mental health agencies, social service agencies, law enforcement, religious groups and the educational system.


It has been reported that access to telemedicine may improve recruitment and retention by connecting isolatedprofessionals to their peers.

Consumer/survivor initiatives (CSIs)

CSIs provide peer support and improve life skills for individuals suffering from health and/or mental health or addiction issues. Presently, there are 77 peer/self-help initiatives that aim to support rural and/or northern communities.


We hope you enjoyed our latest Health Hint!

Written by Angelika Aziz

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If you would like to support the health of Ontarians, you can donate to Federated Health Charities