Ontario will provide physiotherapy, exercise and fall-prevention classes for 200,000 more people, primarily for senior citizens, as part of the government's strategy to care for the province's aging population.
The move, to be announced Thursday, is designed to ensure all long-term care home residents who need one-on-one attention from a physiotherapist will receive it.
The government will also provide more physiotherapy and exercise classes at community clinics, and give 60,000 more seniors and disabled people physiotherapy in their own homes.
Health Minister Deb Matthews said the program will widely expand the availability of such services, particularly in parts of the province where people eligible for physiotherapy have trouble getting access to it.
"That doubles the current number receiving this care in the community, boosting in-home care and expanding to a number of smaller towns and cities that are currently underserviced," she said in a statement.
Currently, 292,000 people are using physiotherapy or exercise classes.
The expanded programs are scheduled to be rolled out by August, and are not contingent on the budget.
Under the current structure, physiotherapy follows a fee-for-service model – in which a long-term care home provides the service, then bills the government. The new system will directly fund physiotherapy through clinics and long-term care homes. Some homes now provide only an exercise class, and the policy is aimed at ensuring individual physiotherapy is offered, as well.
Eligibility criteria will remain the same.
Amanda Smart, president of the Ontario Physiotherapy Association, said the new system will help fill gaps in the current system and extend access across the province.
"This is truly a much more comprehensive system, and one that we've been needing for quite some time," she said in an interview. "We're very much excited for what the future holds."
Expanding such care is part of a broader government plan to rejig the health system as the number of senior citizens grows. In part, it involves increasing the availability of preventative medicine in hopes of reducing the number of incidents requiring acute care. Better physiotherapy, exercise and fall-prevention classes, for instance, are aimed at keeping seniors healthy and limiting the number of people who need more serious care later on.
The move flows directly from a report this year by Dr. Samir Sinha, a geriatrics specialist and the lead on the government's seniors' strategy.