Ontario Health Network lays off 44, prompting questions about the province's commitment to virtual care

Cuts to the network's government funding triggered the layoffs, but OTN describes them as a restructuring for efficiency.
By Jonah Comstock
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The Ontario Telemedicine Network, a nonprofit telemedicine company that provides telemedicine services to the provincial government of Ontario, has laid off 44 of its 265 employees in the wake of apparent cuts to government spending with the organization, the CBC reports.

The layoffs are notable, the CBC said, both because Premier Doug Ford previously promised that funding cuts would not lead to public sector job losses and because Ford's government has stated that it wants to make virtual care a priority as it reforms the province's health system.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT

Both Ontario Telemedicine Network and Ontario Minister of Health and Longterm Care Christine Elliot are maintaining that the cuts will not affect the quality of treatment. 

"OTN has been planning and preparing a clearly defined approach to aligning our work effectively with the government's transformation agenda," OTN Communications Director Gabriella Skubincan told the CBC. "Unfortunately, these important changes also required staffing reductions." 

Elliot, meanwhile, told the Toronto Star that none of the affected workers were frontline medical providers, a sentiment echoed by the CEO of northern Ontario hospital Santé Manitouwadge Health, who told the CBC the job cuts were mostly in Toronto.

WHAT'S THE TREND

The OTN has been serving rural parts of Ontario for 13 years. Covering an area as large as California, Texas and Maryland combined, Ontarian caregivers have had to rely on telemedicine. And while OTN started out in traditional site to site telemedicine, its offerings have expanded to include services that would be considered digital health.

Ontario's government passed the People's Health Care Act last month, promising a number of improvements to the province's healthcare including "improving access to secure digital tools, including online health records and virtual care options for patients."