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Province provides $4M in funding to bolster region's pediatric care

RVH says it will hire social worker to support pediatric admissions, as well as a 'child life specialist' to help avoid unnecessary ER visits

The Ontario government announced a boost in funding of more than $4 million to expand pediatric care in Simcoe County.

The province say this is part of the government’s investment of an additional $330 million each year in pediatric health services at hospitals and community-based health-care facilities across Ontario.

The additional funding will support programs and services at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) in Barrie, amounting to $392,000, and the Children’s Treatment Network of Simcoe-York to the tune of $3.69 million.

The funding, which was announced Wednesday afternoon at the Barrie hospital, will be used to hire a social worker at RVH to support pediatric admissions for diabetes diagnosis, eating disorders and mental health treatment, as well as increase access to treatment.

A child life specialist will also be added to RVH, in partnership with Regional Women and Children's Network, to help avoid unnecessary emergency department visits as well as connect families to surgical recovery and mental-health supports.

Other money will be allocated to hire and retain more staff to increase access to children’s rehabilitation services, including speech-language pathology, physiotherapy and occupational therapy at RVH and the Children’s Treatment Network of Simcoe-York.

The new social-worker position is welcome news at RVH.

“(It) is going to be able to help families and kids with needs during a stressful time during admission, and with access to meals and home supports, and also helping them as an inpatient,” Natalie Sherrit, RVH's manager of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and pediatric inpatient unit, told BarrieToday after the announcement.

“Our child life specialist is new, which we’re really excited about,” she added.

The specialist uses therapies to support children having heightened anxiety or difficulties during hospital admissions.

“We’re giving them tools to go through painful procedures, or just going through a difficult time while going to the emergency room or to the operating room for a procedure,” Sherrit said.

“I’ve been at RVH for almost seven years, and just watching the program grow and having these additional supports, in turn to support the community, has been amazing to watch, so I’m proud to be a part of that as well,” she added.

With the growing population in the area comes additional needs, Sherritt said. 

“Having those extra positions to allow nurses and specialists, like social workers and child life specialists, to do their job, brings us all together as a great team,” she said.

Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MPP Doug Downey, who is also the province's attorney general, told BarrieToday he was "just thrilled" about the announcement. 

“It’s really important for the entire region, and RVH is playing a leadership role,” he said. “There is nothing more important than focusing on children and youth, and that’s targeted funding to help do exactly that."

Downey said he always strives to make sure the Barrie hospital has all of the tools it needs. 

“I’m constantly beating the drums along with (Barrie-Innisfil MPP) Andrea Khanjin for our region to make sure that RVH has the resources that it needs to serve the population," he said. "We have a growing population and there’s growing needs."

Over the past three years, the Barrie hospital's inpatient pediatric unit has undergone a surge of admissions, rising from approximately 500 in 2020-21 to almost 700 in 2022-23. 

“This is wonderful news for the children and families in our region who rely on us for care,” RVH president and CEO Gail Hunt said in a news release.

“Investing in the health and well-being of our children will ensure better access to care when they need it the most and improve their experience both during their stay and after discharge," she added. "This announcement gives us the means to grow our team and further evolve our care to meet the needs of our pediatric population."

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About the Author: Kevin Lamb

Kevin Lamb picked up a camera in 2000 and by 2005 was freelancing for the Barrie Examiner newspaper until its closure in 2017. He is an award-winning photojournalist, with his work having been seen in many news outlets across Canada and internationally
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