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Opinion: Dave Dale: It’s OK to be confused and ask questions, right?

How do these announcements fit with the overall plan? Is there an overall plan? If Canadore is leading the charge, who is following whom? And how does the Local Health Integration Network, or whatever is being cooked up to replace it, fit into this picture?
2022 04 27 canadore nipissing aerial
Canadore College and Nipissing University knows no bounds on North Bay's escarpment.

My head is spinning from all the different things going on in the world, across Canada, throughout Ontario and across the district. It’s hard to keep up and get a grip on the basic facts let alone understand the complex nuances involved.

Canadore College’s latest announcements have left me confused, although I’m hoping it’s a temporary affliction.

I blame it partly on investing so much time trying to understand the geo-politics of East-West war and that annoying little SarsCov-2 virus, both of which are revealing the fragility of our social construct. Other distractions include the vagaries of social media, the downside of which exacerbates the erosion and fracturing of pretty well all things we hold dear.

Canadore, as you have likely heard, is taking bold steps in post-secondary education by entering the long-term care, mental health and addictions treatment game as a major player. Just yesterday, it was announced that the province will fund a 160-bed LTC facility as part of its Village Community Care Group concept. The plan is to build it at Canadore’s main campus at the Education Centre on the escarpment off College Drive with a goal of opening the doors as early as 2024.

Ontario needs more LTC beds in a bad way, there is a need to improve the ones already in place and more people are required to staff them so this has the potential to be a big win all around.

A week prior, Canadore announced almost $7-million in funding for 53 new local addictions treatment beds as a training ground for students in mental health and addictions programs. The facility to be used is located in the heart of West Ferris on Lakeshore Drive in the former Farquhar Chrysler dealership building. Again, there is an obvious need for such treatment as well as individuals trained in the field. It has all the makings of being a touchdown for the community.

Every step toward addressing those issues is welcome news – and as a product of Canadore’s focus on providing practical experience education, I can see how students will benefit from hands-on training in a supervised environment.

Canadore has a long history of breaking new ground in education, for better or for worse, so it’s not a surprise to see innovation materialize locally.

Both endeavors, however, seem a bit odd once you look under the sheets of those beds. Both include private-public partnerships that are not clearly defined or explained while also several leaps away from the universal public health system.

North Bay, as many have followed in the past couple of years, has been trying to reorganize how dozens of agencies work together to provide mental health and addiction services. And the province has been busy behind the veil of bureaucracy remoulding regional health care governance. It seems this should be front and centre during provincial election debates before the June 2 ballots are cast.

How do these announcements fit with the overall plan? Is there an overall plan? If Canadore is leading the charge, who is following whom? And how does the Local Health Integration Network, or whatever is being cooked up to replace it, fit into this picture?

The general location of the addictions and treatment facility is interesting, to say the least, mostly due to the relative distance from existing service agencies, hospital and college. It is understandable if there was some strategy to move such things away from the downtown core, although I can imagine there might be a debate on that point.

I’d really like to see the lease agreement to see who is paying for the improvements and renovations required, as well as any work to comply with environmental risks (garages can sometimes have a more toxic legacy than some businesses.)

More importantly, is it really a good arena for students when the classroom provides services to the most vulnerable of people dealing with complex psychological and physical illnesses? I’d rank this field as ‘dangerous to moderately dangerous in the risk of bad outcomes spectrum. Even with my limited understanding of how the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board deals with claims involving certified and fully trained individuals, I’d say this is one red flag that needs consideration.

While I support practical training components of post-secondary education, I’m not a big fan of students being worked into the business and operational plans – especially when it involves public service such as health care. It’s always been my position that students should be training for careers that hopefully pay more than living wages with hopefully corresponding benefit plans. If students are crucial to the day-to-day operations, above and beyond a training scenario, that means there are fewer ‘real’ jobs for them when they graduate.

It’s quite possible the high number of health care workers that are needed, due to COVID burnout and other factors such as insufficient pay and sick benefits, make it necessary to use students as labour. I’m guarded against that becoming a standard operating policy across the province and personally, I wouldn’t want to be paying tuition and living expenses to work for either the government or corporation.

What happens when there is a public health emergency? Are the students designated essential workers?

If the LTC and addictions treatment facility doesn’t use the students as part of its operating plan, and the managers or supervisors don’t double as teachers, I don’t understand why the college is involved in the first place.

Why isn’t a provincial ministry or agency creating and overseeing this public health service with an agreement to have Canadore students as regular placement trainees?

I’m sure the answers will come in time, hopefully before the Third World War breaks out and, if that’s the case, prepare to understand the true limits of the so-called freedom of choice we take for granted.

Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses meant as Letters to the Editor can be sent to [email protected]. To contact the writer directly, email: [email protected] or check out his website