Ontario Telemedicine Network cuts 15% of staff
May 6, 2019
TORONTO – The Ontario Telemedicine Network, a non-profit agency that helps Ontario patients access healthcare through videoconferencing and other forms of distance medicine, has laid off more than 15 percent of its staff in the wake of a reduction to its funding.
OTN eliminated 44 staff jobs, CBC News reported. This comes despite repeated promises from Premier Doug Ford and his cabinet ministers that no public sector workers will lose their jobs as a result of PC government funding cuts.
OTN helps deliver what it calls “virtual health care.” It uses videoconferencing technology to link doctors and nurses with patients around the province.
For instance, psychiatrists hold face-to-face consultations with patients, nurses can check in with patients at home after they’ve been discharged, and students living away from home can connect with their family doctor. Small rural hospitals and clinics use OTN’s network to access specialists in Ontario’s larger cities.
Published figures show OTN received $42 million in provincial funding in 2017-18, nearly all of it from the Ministry of Health.
An official with Ontario Telemedicine network said the agency employed 265 staff before the 44 jobs were cut. “OTN has been planning and preparing a clearly defined approach to aligning our work effectively with the government’s transformation agenda,” said communications director Gabriella Skubincan in a statement emailed to CBC News.
“Unfortunately, these important changes also required staffing reductions.”
Skubincan declined to reveal the size of the funding cut, referring the question back to the Health Ministry.
Ontario Telemedicine Network’s latest annual report says it facilitated nearly 900,000 patient consultations, and saved nearly $72 million that would have been paid in travel grants to patients in northern Ontario.
“This is another cut that will be felt by people who already don’t have equitable access to health services that many people in big centres take for granted,” said NDP health critic France Gélinas in an interview.
However, OTN’s CEO and founder, Dr. Ed Brown, commented that the agency’s role has been changing recently, as secure messaging and video services like Skype, Teams, Zoom, Facetime and others have become ubiquitous. He said that OTN will be pivoting, as a result, and will be working to add value to available telehealth services, public and private.