Delay changes threatening dental care access for vulnerable children: NDP Health critic

NDP Health critic France Gélinas sent the following open letter to the Minister of Health today urging a delay to implementation of changes that threaten to dramatically reduce access to dental care for low-income children and youth:

 

March 19, 2015

 

Hon. Dr. Eric Hoskins, MPP

Minister of Health and Long-Term Care

10th Floor, Hepburn Block

80 Grosvenor Street

Toronto, Ontario M7A 2C4

 

Dear Minister Hoskins:

 

I am writing to urge you to accept the recommendation of public health officials and delay the implementation of changes to dental services for children until all outstanding concerns have been resolved and all Public Health Units confirm that no child will lose access to preventive dental care and urgent dental treatment.

For the past year, Public Health Units have raised serious concerns regarding the Liberal government’s plan to eliminate the Children in Need of Treatment Program (CINOT), remove the preventive dental care mandate from the Ontario Public Health Standards, and contract-out the administration of these important public health programs to a private company, effective August 2015.

Boards of Health understand that these changes threaten to dramatically reduce access to dental care for low-income children and youth, who are well served by the existing CINOT program and OPHS mandate. That’s why many Boards have passed resolutions calling on your government to ensure that preventive dental services continue to be a mandated activity in the OPHS; to guarantee that any new emergency dental program considers the oral health needs of children, not just financial criteria; and, to maintain current levels of funding so that all children in need continue to have equitable access to preventive oral health services and urgent treatment. 

In December, I questioned these cuts publicly and brought attention to their potentially devastating impact on the oral health of Ontario’s kids. At that time, you dismissed concerns that children would lose existing coverage.

Since then, however, you have failed to address the serious concerns that Public Health Units have raised with your Ministry. That’s why the Association of Local Public Health Agencies wrote to the Ministry on January 27, 2015 to convey the “grave concerns” of public health professionals. With respect to the elimination of CINOT, which served 32,839 children in 2013, Public Health Units stated that “Withdrawing important oral health services to this many of Ontario’s vulnerable children as a consequence of program redesign is therefore not something we can accept.” They sought assurance that your government will retain the important role of Public Health Units in the provision of preventive services and continue to provide the same level of service to children in urgent need of treatment.

On March 3, the Association of Local Public Health Agencies wrote to you to formally state that the August 1 implementation date is “no longer reasonable.” Public Health Units and health professionals have now stated clearly that the changes cannot be implemented by August 1 without jeopardizing the dental health of children or undermining the important role of Public Health Units in delivering essential preventive care and urgent treatment to children in need.

The concerns of Public Health Units can no longer be dismissed or ignored. Proceeding with the elimination of CINOT and the OPHS mandate, while failing to communicate information to Public Health Units to allow for appropriate planning, will only endanger the services that vulnerable children rely on.

I urge you to accept that the August 1 implementation date is not feasible and to address each of the concerns raised by Public Health Units.

The goal of any changes to children’s dental programs must be to expand access and build Ontario's capacity to deliver care. Until these objectives can be met, and until all Ontarians can trust that no child will lose access to preventive care and urgent dental treatment, it is necessary for your government to pause the implementation of the new program.

 I look forward to your prompt response.

 

Sincerely,

  

France Gélinas, MPP

Ontario NDP Health Critic 

cc:           Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, Association of Local Public Health Agencies