Lakehead researchers hope the Ontario government will integrate registered mental health providers into OHIP

August 17, 2020 – Thunder Bay, Ont.

Two Lakehead University researchers have published a paper in the Canadian Journal of Public Health encouraging the province to integrate registered mental health providers into the public health insurance system.

In the article released on August 7, Lakehead psychology professors Drs. Deborah Scharf and Kirsten Oinonen, who are both registered clinical psychologists, argued Ontario’s COVID-19 response highlights shortcomings of its physician-only public health-care system, which limits access to appropriate and sustainable mental health care.

“The fear, grief, social isolation, and financial and occupational losses from COVID-19 have created a mental-health crisis,” Dr. Scharf said.

The researchers said Ontario’s attempt to rapidly expand mental health-care access due to COVID-19 includes new Ontario Health Insurance Program billing codes that enable physicians to provide trauma counselling over the phone and patient self-serve online tools – while psychologists and other registered mental health provider services have been largely left out of the provincial response.

“Non-physician mental health providers operate outside of the provincial health-care infrastructure, including the OHIP provincial payer system that facilitated the provincial physician response,” Dr. Oinonen said.

“A physician-centric mental health-care system limits public access to quality, sustainable, evidence-based mental health services, because most physicians do not have the capacity, training, or desire to provide mental health services,” she added.

The researchers described several problems with Ontario’s physician-centric response to COVID-19, including that physicians do not typically provide psychotherapy; payment incentives in medicine have not typically increased public access to mental health-care; shortages of psychiatrist and other public mental health-care services mean that physicians have nowhere within the public system to refer their patients with severe or emergency mental health issues, among other concerns.

“A physician-centric approach to providing emergency mental health services puts patients at risk from inadequate or inappropriate care while increasing stress on primary care providers whose services are desperately needed elsewhere during COVID-19,” Dr. Scharf said.

The researchers believe the government should create trial-billing mechanisms through provincial public health insurance for registered mental health providers and introduce standardized provincial-required reporting of registered mental health providers including their capacities.

In May, the federal government introduced $240 million to support online mental health-care and medical services.

“We hope the federal and provincial governments leverage psychologists and other registered mental health practitioners in their response,” Dr. Oinonen said.

To read the article visit this page.



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Lakehead University is a fully comprehensive university with approximately 9,700 full-time equivalent students and over 2,000 faculty and staff at two campuses in Orillia and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Lakehead has 10 faculties, including Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Graduate Studies, Health & Behavioural Sciences, Law, Natural Resources Management, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Science & Environmental Studies, and Social Sciences & Humanities. In 2019, Maclean’s 2020 University Rankings, once again, included Lakehead University among Canada’s Top 10 primarily undergraduate universities, while Research Infosource named Lakehead 'Research University of the Year' in its category for the fifth consecutive year. Visit