Ontario announces $2.5M to fund patients through controversial COVID nasal testing test

Ontario Premier Doug Ford rolled out an additional $2.5 million to allow those with severe mental illness more access to the controversial CAMH “Ontario COVID” test in an effort to relieve overcrowding at the public health care facility.

Ford’s support comes despite calls for faster access to the controversial nasal testing procedure, and as the premier offered to pay for the testing at hospitals other than CAMH in the Toronto area.

“I know there have been some concerns and we’re going to do whatever we can to get people the care they need,” he said on Monday.

Those recommendations come from an independent panel established by the province and has grown significantly following years of criticism from CAMH staff and even from within Ford’s own conservative party.

Ford announced on Sunday that more funds are now being doled out to move patients as quickly as possible, noting that he understood that patients’ treatment was not getting the attention it needed due to overcrowding issues at CAMH.

The original $18 million set aside to expand COVID testing is not enough to pay for all patients to receive it, and Ford said the next round of funding will send 11-year-old Hector Choi from Attica, Ont., to Edmonton – where he is housed at the Alberta Children’s Hospital – where he will undergo the screening. Choi, who suffered a traumatic brain injury, was moved to CAMH in May 2017 after Ontario Children’s Hospital had received more than 1,000 requests for help, but he was placed on a waiting list and not included in the first round of tests.

READ MORE: Patients stuck in Toronto psychiatric hospital in limbo after surge in COVID requests

Choi’s parents said they were pushing to get their son the specialized testing to help manage his symptoms.

The update on Sunday came just days after Health Minister Christine Elliott announced that she was creating an independent panel to review the COVID protocol amid escalating criticism and outside pressure.

Elliott ordered the panel to act on a request from CAMH President and CEO Cheryl Robb that steps be taken to address overcrowding at the facility.

Both Elliott and Ford criticized clinicians and CAMH in the past for too quickly granting access to the COVID test in an effort to get patients out of their hospital beds.

But recently, several experts have called for more personalized care in treating mental illness – which the COVID test doesn’t specifically address. Experts say that it has been and remains a flawed method of testing for patients.

“The COVID protocol is certainly a good idea in some cases, but I don’t think it’s something we should do consistently in every single case,” Maxim Poulin, a cardiologist at the University of Toronto, said on CTV’s Question Period.

Poulin explained that the COVID protocol, which applies when a person is under a 7 percent chance of recurrence, “is one of those programs” that might do well for some patients, but also “might lead to inappropriate prescribing or over prescribing, either an over prescribing of opioids that are too slow or too fast, an over prescribing of potentially dangerous medication for anxiety.”

READ MORE: Ontario screening for self-harm on hold amid treatment demand from mental health crisis

Dr. John Sklupnicki, an assistant professor at University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, has also been critical of the procedure, but has called for more “personalized” care for people with mental illness, as well as more holistic, support-based care rather than more tests and tests to access COVID testing.

In their original report on the COVID protocol, obtained by Global News, ERS Canadian Collaborative Review on the Health Care and Safety of Psychiatric-Related Health Problems recommended that the test was appropriate for “limited, specific harms.”

In addition to funding more COVID tests for patients at CAMH, a second focus of the $2.5 million announced last week is to boost CAMH’s own mental health workers and programs as part of a larger plan to relieve overcrowding at the hospital.

That team, according to the province, is to conduct “focus groups” to learn more about how it can be a key partner for the facility.

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