Ontario Medical Association elects a new president with same prescription for north

There's a new face at the helm of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) and while she may be new, her prescription for northern Ontario health care is not.

Dr. Rose Zacharias is calling for more support to help the region deal with its lack of doctors and the opioid crisis.

"People are just waiting too long and at the same time, we have health care workers that are just burnt out," said Zacharias.

"The pandemic has been particularly stressful and burdensome and we know that burnout is at an all-time high."

The OMA has been working with Northern Ontario School of Medicine University (NOSM) to come up with a plan to address the shortage of 350 doctors.

Zacharias said the issue of more support for mental health and addiction is something that's important to her.

She spent her first afternoon on the job talking to people affected in Thunder Bay. Thunder Bay has to turn away roughly 3,000 people every year from its only withdrawal management facility.

"We do need to invest in our mental health and addiction programs, as well as our community and long-term care facilities, and we need to digitally connect people so they can better provide for the people of Ontario," Zacharias said.

"Work definitely needs to start now and we need an investment of immediate dollars and creative ideas on how to address the gaps in the health care system."

NOSM's Dr. David Marsh has patients from Kenora to Huntsville. He said northern Ontario is being devastated far more than any other part of the province.

"I think the thing that's most pressuring around mental health and addiction is to try and turn the tide on opioid overdose deaths," said Marsh.

He's grateful the OMA has recognized the issue and said it needs special focus from the next government.

"What we've seen during the pandemic is that the illegal drug scene in northern Ontario has shifted," Marsh said.

"Fentanyl is now very available and it's much more dangerous with people using it."

Marsh said health care in the region is heading in the right direction, but there's still a lot of work that needs to be done by the incoming government.