The Ford government has been reshaping the province's healthcare system since beating out the Liberals in June 2018.
Originally, the province came out with Ontario Health Teams, which would each represent 300,000 people.
However, because the district has a population of roughly 20,000, spread over a geographically large 15,000 square km, social service providers have been looking at alternative ways of providing care.
“We looked at creating an All Nations Ontario [Health] Team for all three districts, Kenora, Thunder Bay, and Rainy River,” noted Dan McCormick, Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board (DSSAB) CAO.
“That will represent somewhere around 240,000 people and the Ministry [of Health] was going to buy in on that.”
McCormick said the province realized 300,000 people in the region's geographic area was unreasonable at this time.
He told the Times the province is actually moving forward with teams that are much smaller than originally planned.
The DSSAB's First Nation partners submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Health last year for solely First Nations healthcare and it was rejected by the Ministry, which said it needed to be broader based.
The First Nation partners then teamed up with non indigenous communities in the Rainy River District and amended their proposal. The proposal was resubmitted on Dec. 5, 2019.
“We're hoping that the proposal is going to move forward for a [health] team just for the Rainy River District, so we're awaiting what the Ministry has to say on that one,” McCormick remarked.
The Ontario Health Team proposal that's specific to the Rainy River District has the Gizidewin Health Access Centre, Tribal Area Health, La Verendrye Hospital, Family Health Teams in Atikokan and Fort Frqances, Canadian Mental Health Association and community counselling as its main partners.
McCormick said the DSSAB is hoping to get other organizations and agencies to team up as well.
Another priority for the DSSAB is creating an All Nations Health Campus.
McCormick said the idea was pitched to one of Ontario's health ministers a few weeks ago at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference in Toronto.
Under one roof, the proposed health campus would house a hospital, home for the aged, indigenous programming, supported seniors apartments, physician and family health teams, mental health supports, and addictions services.
Local ambulance services could potentially be co-located at the campus as well.
“We're looking at trying to create something that is all encompassing, it would be in Fort Frances ideally,” he explained.
“The rationale is we're losing services in our small communities rapidly and I'm talking about everything from health services to employment services, are all getting 'play booked' by the ministry.”
McCormick said the DSSAB is trying to maintain services in the district and decrease reliance on travelling far distances to other communities for medical appointments.
“There's got to be a way to bring more of that into our community and we think it could be done by creating a central campus,” he reasoned.
While the health campus won't be built overnight, McCormick notes more information will be released as the project progresses.
He said the central health campus and All Nations Ontario Health Team for the district were well received at ROMA and now the ideas need to be put into motion.
“From all the ministries we got, 'we like your idea, bring us back some concrete business cases, bring us back letters of support, start putting your package together and them come talk to us,'” McCormick recalled.
“We built a lot of good relationships and we hope that they'll move forward here in the future.”