Editorial: Rural health care

The quality of rural health care in Ontario is under constant threat. Anyone who has experienced long ER waits, delayed appointments, or canceled medical procedures is well aware of this fact. 

Although there are a number of reasons for this situation, the primary cause is that we Canadians are aging and the overall need for health care is increasing. StatsCan recently reported that there are now more seniors living in Canada than there are children – the first time that has happened in the country’s history. This was not unexpected.

Demographics analysts have been warning for years of a coming “bow wave” of seniors as the baby boomers age and live longer. Add to this the fact that increasing numbers of retirees are cashing in on the inflated housing market in the Golden Horseshoe and moving to rural locations. But Ontario has done precious little in preparation for the onslaught.

Rural and small town hospitals have been especially hard hit. Years of underfunding has forced service cut backs, layoffs, and in some cases, driven planning to consolidate more hospital services into regional centres to balance budgets. This will lead to more closures over time. Part of the problem stems from the hospital funding formulas that don’t adequately reflect the challenges faced by mid-sized hospitals.

On top of this, small town and rural areas struggle to meet the growing demands for donations and fundraising to help with the gap in aging infrastructure and the ever growing costs of new medical equipment. The growing share of total health service costs now borne by local communities is a very big challenge. In smaller towns across rural Ontario, maintaining adequate local hospital services is viewed as critical to sustaining those communities. Lose those services, and communities will wither over time.

Another aspect of this narrative is that many seniors choose to “age in place.” That is, to live in their own homes as long as possible, often with the help of younger family members. Sometimes they move in to the homes of their children. Caring for an elderly parent can be stressful and expensive. The Ontario government has an obligation to support family care givers to help relieve the load on long term care facilities. More can and must be done.

We in North Renfrew are fortunate in that the Deep River & District Hospital (DRDH) is not under immediate threat of closure. But we must remain vigilant – there have been rumours! I encourage you to support the DRDH Foundation fundraising efforts for new equipment at the hospital. Or maybe even volunteer for the DRDH board of directors.

Let’s all work together to keep our local hospital open. Its loss would be a severe blow to the area and result in significant additional travel to get the health care we need.