Ministry of Health Emergency Management plans and strategies
Learn more about the plans and strategies to ensure Ontario is prepared during a health emergency
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The Health System Emergency Management Branch (HSEMB) was created in 2003 to plan, organize and coordinate provincial responses to health emergencies. Since its creation, the branch has developed a variety of emergency management programs and plans designed to support Ontario’s health system to help individuals, organizations and communities prepare for, and respond to, unexpected disruptions and emergency events.
Ministry Emergency Response Plan (MERP)
Under the Emergency Management Civil Protection Act, RSO 1990 (EMCPA), each minister of the Crown presiding over a ministry of the Government of Ontario must formulate an emergency plan with respect to the type of emergency assigned to it by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. The MERP offers a general framework on how the Ministry of Health meets this responsibility by providing health system coordination and direction during emergencies of human health, disease and epidemics, and health services during an emergency.
In the plan, the term emergency refers to a situation or impending situation that constitutes a danger of major proportions that could result in serious harm to persons or substantial damage to property and is caused by:
- the forces of nature
- a disease or other health risk
- an accident or an act whether intentional or otherwise
This includes declared emergencies under the EMCPA as well as undeclared emergencies. Components of the plan can also be used for emerging, critical health situations that may not meet this definition.
Ontario Health Plan for an Influenza Pandemic (OHPIP)
When an influenza pandemic occurs, it will likely spread rapidly to many communities and trigger the implementation of local, provincial, national, and international pandemic plans. As opposed to providing detailed planning guidance for provincial health system partners, the OHPIP outlines anticipated health sector response activities based on the severity of the pandemic virus. Response activities for the health care system at the time of the emergency is determined by, but not exclusive to:
- the epidemiology of the virus
- the age distribution
- the severity of the illness
- the efficiency of transmission from human to human
- impacts on the provincial health system
- behavioral responses of the public
Ensuring that all parts of the health care system have the systems and procedures in place allows Ontario to identify an influenza pandemic early, minimize its impact, reduce the extent of the outbreak, and reduce morbidity and mortality rates.
Influenza pandemic planning resources
- Canadian Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (CPIP) Plan
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Pandemic Strategy
Seasonal Respiratory Pathogens Readiness and Response Planning Guide
Seasonal pathogens such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus circulate in Ontario in highest numbers between November and April. The Seasonal Respiratory Pathogens Readiness and Response Planning Guide supports health system readiness to respond to respiratory pathogens outbreaks and surges by setting expectations and accountabilities of health system partners. In this plan, the term “system” refers to all the organizations, agencies, employers and providers (such as public health units, hospitals) that deliver health services in Ontario.
The Planning Guide was developed to align with the Chief Medical Officer of Health’s 2022 Annual Report, Being Ready to build on key lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, and to integrate a health equity lens into readiness activities.
Radiation Health Response Plan (RHRP)
The Provincial Nuclear Emergency Response Plan, Master Plan 2017 (PNERP) requires the Ministry of Health to develop and maintain a plan for the management of patients that have been exposed to radiation as a result of a radiological or nuclear incident of an accidental or deliberate nature.
The RHRP aims to meet this goal by guiding health sector planning at provincial and local levels across Ontario on:
- how the health system responds to a radiological and/or nuclear incident of an accidental or deliberate nature, and the conditions which precautionary and protective actions are implemented for the public and health system
- a comprehensive province-wide approach to health planning and response, including information to guide local incident planning
- roles and responsibilities, operational concepts and response principles for coordinating the response of health organizations
While the RHRP primarily supports the PNERP and shall be activated within the context of that plan, the RHRP can also be used when the PNERP is not activated. For example, components of this plan could be used as a guideline for an offshore nuclear incident which may or may not impact Ontario.
Radiological and nuclear planning resources
- Potassium Iodide (KI) Guidelines
- Potassium Iodide Tablets (KI) Fact Sheet
- Health Canada Radiation Protection Bureau
- Federal Nuclear Emergency Plan
- Health Canada’s METER: Basic Concepts of Radiation and Protection Principles
- this e-course is designed to provide basic concepts of radiation for a response to a radiological or nuclear emergency
- Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC)
- International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Health services during a First Nations evacuation
When a First Nations community is evacuated due to an emergency, for example from flooding or forest fire smoke, community members arriving in a host community will need access to health services. The range of health needs may differ based on the population being evacuated and any injuries or traumas that may have been sustained in relation to the event.
The Provincial Emergency Operations Center provides the overall coordination of provincial response activities and works in partnership with the community leadership, other provincial ministries and federal departments in response to the event, as outlined in the Provincial Emergency Response Plan (PERP). The Ministry of Health coordinates the health system’s response to the emergency with a focus on supporting the planning and provision of health services to meet the health needs of evacuees.
The Ministry of Health works with Ontario Health regions, Indigenous Services Canada, and relevant health system providers in the evacuated community and in the host community to support planning and response. This will typically include gathering and disseminating critical response information such as high-level needs assessments for evacuees among health response partners. Health system partners in host communities work to ensure health services are available for evacuees who may require access to health care providers to maintain continuity of care during the difficult and often stressful period while evacuees are away from home.
Non-Insured Health Benefit (NIHB) program
Health Canada provides eligible First Nations members not covered through private insurance or provincial health programs with a specified range of medically necessary health-related goods and services through the Non-Insured Health Benefit (NIHB) program. During an evacuation of a First Nations community, there may be an increased number of individuals requiring access to this program.
Health sector evacuation planning resources
- Joint Emergency Management Steering Committee (JEMS)
- Health Needs during the Evacuation of a First Nation - Fact Sheet for Health System Partners
- Health Needs during the Evacuation of a First Nation - Fact Sheet for Municipal Partners
Emergency Medical Assistance Team (EMAT)
Health emergencies that cause significant human injury or illness can sometimes overwhelm the health care resources of the community in which they occur. The Emergency Medical Assistance Team (EMAT) can provide the medical resources needed in any community that is unable to manage large number of patients resulting from a health emergency.
The team is a mobile medical field unit that can be quickly deployed by the Ministry of Health to support hospitals and communities across the province in a modular and scalable fashion. It is operated by Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre on behalf of the Health System Emergency Management Branch of the Ministry of Health.
The capabilities of EMAT are wide-ranging but it is primarily adept at providing surge capacity to support a variety of incident types. Once the team arrives at the destination, it takes approximately 4 to 6 hours to become fully operational.
The team can be onsite within 24 hours anywhere in Ontario, including to fly-in communities. The team can set-up a multi-bed unit that provides a staging and triage base and has the capability to treat acute care and intermediate care patients. In addition, EMAT can provide:
- patient isolation in the case of an infectious diseases outbreak
- medical support and decontamination in the case of a chemical, biological or radiological incident
- case management and triage of patients in a mass casualty situation
Staff and volunteer health care team
The system uses on-call health care professionals who volunteer to work on the team. The team members come from a variety of locations so that no single area is without vital health human resources, including:
- acute care nurses
- medical radiation technologists
- critical and advanced care paramedics
- social workers
The staff members are specially trained to respond to a variety of major health emergencies including natural disasters, infectious disease outbreaks and chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incidents. They have the appropriate training and skills to function as a team in a health emergency environment involving:
- infectious diseases outbreaks
- natural disasters
- chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incidents
Once EMAT is dispatched and is on its way to the site of the emergency, its on-call staff is alerted and transported to the site.
As a provincial medical assistance team, EMAT deploys to all communities, including into First Nations communities within Ontario, in response to health-related emergencies when local resources are overwhelmed, or to support the provision of primary care needs within a host community housing evacuees during the forest fire and flooding seasons.