Chamber to Government: Turn your focus from budget cuts to better health care


At a time when the province is trying to address the major challenge of fiscal sustainability, the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce (SSMCOC), in partnership with the Ontario Chamber network is suggesting a different approach to fixing the province’s health care system and putting patients first. A report released yesterday by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), is calling on the provincial government to turn its focus from budget cuts to empowering the health care system to become an economic and productivity driver that is responsive to emerging innovation being developed in our own backyard.

The report, Adopting Our Advantage: Supporting a thriving health science sector in Ontario, is the third in a series of health policy reports and is part of the OCC’s year-long Health Transformation Initiative.

Currently, in centres across the province, the health science sector is struggling to attract local capital, find experienced managerial talent, and access the most important market in the province – the health care system. These challenges mean that entrepreneurs are more likely to partner with foreign investors, as they struggle to find the resources that would give them a strong foothold in Ontario.

“In order for the government to receive a return on its investments in research, and for patients in Sault Ste. Marie and Northern Ontario to gain access to the kind of innovations that will improve their quality of life, there needs to be a unified strategy to support Ontario’s health science sector,” says Paul Johnson, SSMCOC President. “Today, we are not supporting our own discoveries. If we were able to change that, it would have a great impact on our provincial economy, on our provincial health industry and on our local health care system.”

The SSMCOC and its provincial network believes that the Ontario government invests a significant amount of money into research funding, education and seed development funds, however, if the companies that emerge from this environment are unable to access the markets or resources they need to scale their business, they are more likely to leave the province causing Ontario taxpayers to lose out on our investment.

With innovation being identified as a priority at both the provincial and federal levels, now is the time for government to adopt a cohesive strategy to address the challenges facing this sector and take hold of the opportunity presented by our strengths in health sciences that will lead to a self-sustaining, vibrant health economy.

Current practices in our health care system do not incentivize the adoption of innovation. When it comes to purchasing, for example, the lowest cost item is usually the winner, and innovative new products tend to be more expensive or require investment in training and diffusion. It is especially difficult for start-ups and small companies to introduce their discoveries to the system, thanks to confusing bureaucracy and rigid guidelines.

“We need to do a better job connecting the experiences of care providers with the health science sector, so that Ontario researchers and entrepreneurs can understand the needs of our system and work towards solving pressing problems. We need to innovate intelligently, which means investing in the kinds of relationships that bring new value to our system. Adopting innovation into the Health Care system can also give entrepreneurs in Sault Ste. Marie the opportunity to build new businesses and global opportunities,” suggests Rory Ring, Executive Director of the SSMCOC.

“If we can establish an integrated system that has a collective vision, the potential rewards for Ontario are great. A lack of focused investment in the province’s home-grown innovation will only lead to missed opportunity,” adds Allan O’Dette, President of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

The report’s recommendations suggest a cohesive approach to health care that would make it easier to capitalize innovative health science start-ups, attract and retain experienced talent, and provide market access to the public health care system. For this to take place, Ontario requires a dedicated vision for health science innovation, one that recognizes our competitive advantages and makes use of our single-payer system as an economic driver.

As part of its year-long Health Transformation Initiative, the OCC and the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber hosted a special Northern Health Economic Leadership Series event in March, which featured a discussion on the health-related challenges and opportunities in Northern, remote and First Nations communities. A featured panel discussed how to foster innovation to help improve patient outcomes and build a thriving health sector.