Social services gap hits 905 – Ontario/GTA – Social services gap hits 905: Region receiving $193 less in funding per resident than rest of Ontario ‘during economic downturn’
December 02, 2008. Tanya Talaga, Queen’s Park Bureau

The underfunding of social services saddens Elisha Laker of York Region’s family services because he knows how valuable counselling and programs are in helping those facing anxiety, depression and family conflict in harsh economic times.

Yet when it comes to social services funding, there is a $641.9 million gap, or, about $193 less in provincial funding per resident in the GTA/905 area compared with the rest of Ontario, which gets $381 per capita, says the third annual report by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

It was prepared for the Strong Communities Coalition, which represents 20 hospitals and the United Ways of Peel, York, Durham and Oakville, and focuses on the growing gap in provincial funding for health care and social services.

What those numbers mean, said Laker, is the 6,000 clients served by social services yearly can wait longer for help. “If you look at this climate, people losing their jobs, counselling is an underrated service,” he said. “This is a way of building stronger people and families.”

Strengthening mental health services is an investment in people and shouldn’t be seen as a cost, he said.

Hospitals in the 905 and other fast-growing communities outside Toronto are struggling with a $1.4 billion funding gap – $255 less per resident than those living in the rest of Ontario at $1,009 – because provincial dollars are not keeping pace with rapid population growth, the report says.

Four million Ontario residents live in the high-growth areas such as Peel, York, Durham, Halton, and the Kitchener and Waterloo region. To be fair, funding must be reallocated to where the people are, said Tariq Asmi, executive director of the Growing Communities Healthcare Alliance, a coalition member. A population needs-based funding formula is required, he added.

“This would support Ontarians during an economic downturn when their needs can be greater,” Asmi said yesterday. The report will be released this morning at a Queen’s Park press conference.

Halton’s Regional Chair Gary Carr acknowledged this funding discrepancy has been a concern for years. He said the report, entitled, “Assessing the Gap” has clearly shown “the 905 is receiving less social and health-care dollars.”

“We had a resolution, as does York and Durham, calling on the government to assist and reduce the gap,” said Carr, who added 450,000 people live in Halton.

“We deserve the same amount of dollars as some of the other areas in the province. We are hopeful they take these figures and take a hard look at assisting us.”

When it comes to hospitals, the per capita funding is $255 less per resident in high-growth areas such as Kitchener and Waterloo, Wellington and Dufferin counties.

The provincial government recognizes there is a funding gap, said Health Minister David Caplan. The government is trying to resolve it with a $120 million investment in hospitals, announced in the last budget, with $30 million in 2008-09 and the remainder flowing in subsequent years, he said.

“It is an important recognition and that it is long overdue,” he said.

The majority of Ontario’s hospitals are facing financial pressures for the 2009-10 fiscal year, according to the Ontario Hospital Association.

Progressive Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer, a former health minister, said there is no guarantee the remainder of the $120 million in funding will actually reach hospitals. “I can tell you there are huge gaps that remain in growth areas and there is no accommodation for increasing volumes,” she said. “There seems to be a lack of a co-ordinated plan.”

Hospitals were told to cut all the low-hanging fruit a few years ago, she said. “They were told to find efficiencies. Instead of operating at 85 per cent occupancy they are operating at 100 per cent.”

This means it will be harder for people living in these high-growth areas to get hospital services, she said.

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