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Almost half of Ontario doctors say they will be forced to close their offices: OMA

The physicians group is calling for government funding to keep doctors from having to declare bankruptcy
2016-03-24 medical clinic
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While doctors' offices quickly adapted to the new normal of the COVID-19 pandemic, including delivering more care virtually, the system the province uses to compensate them has not caught up.

Of the more than 4,800 family doctors and specialists who responded to the OMA's Practice Impact Survey, half have already laid off staff and up to an additional 20 per cent anticipate laying off more staff, with most layoffs occurring in the next month. Up to half the doctors say they will have to close their clinics completely, either for as long as three months or permanently. These closures could mean that some 900,000 patients could have no access to a doctor, in addition to the 800,000 Ontarians who don't have a family doctor.

"Doctors all across the province are very concerned that patients won't have continued access to preventive medicine and diagnostic testing," said Dr. Sohail Gandhi, president of the Ontario Medical Association. "The real risk here is that many will become sick or sicker, and have to go to the Emergency Room or be admitted to hospital. Their health can also be negatively impacted for the long term. Our healthcare infrastructure is also a major part of Ontario's economy, and we can't recover from this pandemic without it. I am calling on the government to do the right thing, and fund healthcare infrastructure."

Although doctors are an essential service and are paid by the province, the vast majority of doctors do not receive a salary but operate as independent small businesses. When a patient comes in for a test, examination or consultation, OHIP pays for this service, and the clinics use that money to pay for nurses, technicians, rent and leases on their specialized medical equipment – some of which costs millions of dollars.

"However, there are virtually no patients these days as non-essential treatments have stopped during the COVID-19 epidemic," said Dr. Gandhi. "This means no OHIP billings, no money coming in, and these overheads don't get paid. Many clinics and testing facilities had already been running on tight budgets after years of cutbacks by previous governments. They may unfortunately go bankrupt and have to close their doors forever, as is happening to countless other types of small businesses across Ontario. I worry about what will happen when this first wave of COVID-19 is over and a big chunk of our health-care system just won't be there."

According to an independent third-party analysis, many doctors do not qualify for COVID-19 relief programs. For example, the federal government's 75 per cent wage subsidy program may not provide relief for physicians that do not have employees as it is geared to support employees, not business owners such as the doctors themselves. Doctors will often not qualify for the other main programs offered including the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit and the Canadian Emergency Business Account.

All OMA members were invited to complete the OMA's Practice Impact Survey, which was carried out between April 11-16, 2020. Total number of surveys completed was 4,830. Survey results are as follows:

  • Have you had to lay off staff because of compensation change?
    • Yes 49.7 per cent, No 50.7 per cent
  • How recently did you lay off staff?
    • In the last seven days 26.1 per cent
    • In the last month 70.9 per cent
    • Longer 3.1 per cent
  • Do you expect you'll be required to lay off in the near future?
    • Yes 52.6 per cent, No 47.4 per cent
  • Do you know when you'll be laying off staff?
    • Within seven days 3.1 per cent
    • Within one month 56.7 per cent
    • Longer 22.6 per cent
  • Will your clinic be forced to close without changes in funding?
    • Yes 48.7 per cent, No 51.3 per cent
  • How long do you anticipate being closed?
    • One week 1.0 per cent
    • One month 21.1 per cent
    • Around three months 69.7 per cent
    • Permanently 9.2 per cent

About the OMA
The Ontario Medical Association represents Ontario's 43,000 plus physicians, medical students and retired physicians, advocating for and supporting doctors while strengthening the leadership role of doctors in caring for patients. Our vision is to be the trusted voice in transforming Ontario's healthcare system.