Toronto’s public speech therapy program is ‘not working’

Toronto’s speech therapy service is struggling to keep up with the demand for therapy in its first year, despite the city’s growing use of technology to help people deal with stress, anxiety and depression.

About 3,000 sessions are scheduled to run on average each month, and the Toronto District School Board says it has a shortfall of about 400 sessions.

In an email to CBC News, Toronto District Chief Health Officer Joanne Pape wrote that the district is “working to address the challenge of meeting demand and we are also working with the province to provide additional funding to meet our expectations.”

Pape said that as of Jan. 1, there were about 400 people on the waiting list for the program, and that they had been offered “substantial” support, including financial assistance and counselling.

“The public health and social service sector in Ontario is not working as effectively as it should and I am deeply concerned about the situation that we have seen,” she wrote.

A public health official said the district has had to cancel about 200 sessions over the last year, and have to turn away more than 10,000 people a year because of the shortage.

The district is not the only one struggling to meet demand.

The Canadian Association of Health Plans and Affiliates (CAHAP) said that between July and October, it has received more than 15,000 requests for therapy, and more than 20,000 of those people have been turned away.

In the latest figures, CAHAP said it has been unable to provide therapy to about 2,000 clients because of lack of space, time or money.

“It’s really hard,” said Dr. Mark Dziedzic, a senior policy analyst with CAHIP.

“They’re going to have to be forced to put their hands up, and they’re going on social media.”

The province is also investigating how to fund the therapy.

“We’re looking at a range of options to make sure we’re not taking any more resources from the private sector to try and help these people,” said spokesperson Scott Hutton.

Hutton said the province is aware of the issue, and will be looking into how to improve the program.

In a statement to CBC, Pape emphasized that the province has offered $500,000 in funding to help the city meet its demand, but that “we’re not quite there yet.”

“We are actively working with our partners to deliver a better service for people,” she said.

Pape also acknowledged that some of the programs offered by the city are not meeting their needs.

“I understand there are some that are not doing as well as we would like them to, and we’re working to address that,” she told CBC.

“As we look to the future, we need to be very careful and strategic about how we spend our scarce resources.”