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Munter and Samson: Ontario must adopt its first child health strategy

Munter and Samson: Ontario must adopt its first child health strategy

Let’s clear the COVID backlog on essential health services for children. Then, let’s invest in targeted kids’ health priorities for the future.

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Whether it’s the recent CN Cycle or the upcoming CHEO telethon, people in Eastern Ontario never miss an opportunity to show they care about young people and their wellbeing. As a community, we want our kids to have a fair shot at living their best life. That’s why children with cancer get care immediately, because there’s no time to waste. Same for a preemie whose life is at risk and for a child who’s been in a car accident.

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But for care that is medically necessary yet non-urgent, one of the results of the pandemic is that our kids are waiting longer than ever.

In fact, for everything from surgeries to diagnostic procedures to developmental therapies, kids wait longer than adults in most parts of Ontario most of the time. In Ottawa right now:

• A child needing an MRI could wait four times longer than an adult;

• Only one in eight children whose severe dental pain requires hospital-based care can be seen within the clinically recommended timeframe;

• Nearly half of kids wait longer than clinically recommended for surgery;

• A teenager needing mental-health care could wait five to six times longer than an adult. (And that’s just the tip of the pandemic’s mental health iceberg.)

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Our kids are hurting, and we don’t have enough community supports to help. In fact, if a young person in mental-health crisis comes to CHEO’s emergency department, there’s a one in four chance they’ll be back within six months because many cannot find care in the community.

Delaying critical interventions today not only changes kids’ lives forever, it also compounds pressures on health systems, adding to chronic and acute care burdens tomorrow.

For some, their overall life trajectories will be permanently altered. Chronic conditions, including mental illness, make up two-thirds of Ontario’s health costs. One of the best things we can do to curb future health costs is to invest in kids now to put them on the path to lifelong health.

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It’s simple pedianomics: Invest in kids’ health now, save for a lifetime. Every day matters and every delay has a cost — for the individual and for the system.

Thankfully, Ontario’s children’s hospitals, mental health agencies, and rehabilitation centres have a solution. We’ve developed the Make Kids Count Plan for a $250-million investment in targeted children’s health priorities for each of the next four years. That’s a lot of community fundraisers across the province — or just a very small piece of Ontario’s $75-billion provincial health budget.

These investments will help us recover from pandemic backlogs and stave off longer-term pressures. They will allow our kids to get better sooner and save us all money and resources in the long run.

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We are also recommending Ontario’s first-ever child health strategy because piecemeal approaches won’t work.

This strategy will build on some great, collaborative work being done already by pediatric health partners at hospitals and in communities across Ontario. You can read about the details of our plan and the rationale for it at www.chcontario.ca. Regardless of how you vote, morally and money-wise, this plan simply makes sense.

From a strictly actuarial viewpoint, it will help kids live longer, healthier, more productive lives — supported in their communities and free up valuable hospital space.

It will pay demographic dividends, too. Statistics Canada confirmed recently that Ontario’s child and youth (0-19) population grew by 1.1 per cent from 2016 to 2021. Ottawa’s child and youth population grew at nine times that rate. We owe it to today’s kids and to future generations to get this right. They will pay dearly if we don’t.

So, this election campaign, if a candidate comes to your door asking for your vote, make sure to ask them if they’re ready to #MakeKidsCount.

Alex Munter is CEO and President of CHEO. Lindy Samson is Chief of Staff, CHEO.

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