Ontario: the province that never learns

Michael Butler
7 years ago

“We must send the message to all political parties that our health is not for sale. Too many people have fought too hard and too long to end up being left with so very little. Unlike this government, the people of Ontario think access to quality health care in their community is right and not a privilege. These hospital cuts are about two different sets of values, ours and theirs.” — Michael Butler, Health Care Campaigner, Council of Canadians

Today I joined other health allies (Representing More than 500,000 Ontarians) at Queen’s Park in Toronto, to raise the alarm about Mike Harris’ Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government plans to make further cuts to Ontario’s hospitals.  As chance would have it, the Wynne government also chose today to announce a fire sale of Hydro One to their bay street buddies and tried to distract us all by announcing beer will now be available in grocery stores at the same time.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Ontario’s health care system is facing a similar assault and privatization. After decades of downsizing, Ontario’s hospitals have been cut more deeply than anywhere in Canada, and now have the fewest beds left of any province in the country. The massive cuts to programs, services, departments all across the hospitals and hundreds of nurses, front-line personal support workers, and support and clerical staff put patients at risk.

A recent report showed that over 50 hospitals are in ‘Code Red’, with 1 in 4 Ontario hospitals facing immense cuts or the threat of closure. In particular, small and rural hospitals have faced disproportionate cuts and a number are at risk of total closure, despite overwhelming community opposition and dangers to patients. So what is really going on?

Ontario is the province that never learns. 

What this slash and burn strategy is really about is opening the door to two-tiered health care and privatization. For their part, this government knows that people value their hospitals and health care practitioners, which is why they attack it with ‘the death by a thousand cuts’ method.  But these cuts aren’t ones that will heal and go right to the bone.

Multiple Liberal governments have proclaimed they are acting in the name of ‘flexibility’, ‘innovation’, ‘efficiency’, or whatever cynical euphemism will get them off the hook; what these really are code words for privatization and P3 projects.  In seven consecutive Ontario budgets, public hospitals have faced real dollar cuts to global budgets and Ontario now funds its hospitals at among the lowest rates in Canada.   Further, looking at hospital funding as a proportion provincial GDP. Ontario ranks nearly at the bottom of the country (8 out of 10).

Another favourite twisting of the truth is that they assure us they will be non-profit private clinics, but what they don’t tell you is these services now come with user fees, co-payments, less safety and excessive CEO and administration fees. This downloading is not only a cut, but a privatization of vital hospital services (often for acute and complex care patients).  The cost in shifting towards private services in health is a human cost.

In spite of continuing and costly P3 disasters like ORNGE, Ehealth, Gas Plants, a (the list goes on), this government eagerly takes another swig of the privatization punch. Previously we highlighted that the Auditor General Report in Ontario revealed that P3 projects had cost the people of Ontario $8 billion in extra costs.  And, if we dig a bit deeper into the report we see the total liabilities, debts and commitments that Ontarians will have to pay, as a result of these half baked projects totals more than $28.5 billion. In essence despite knowing they are driving  us full speed towards a brick wall, we are told it is ‘transformative’ and good for our health. 

Recently a rally was held in Brockville where the hospital’s most recent cost-cutting measure, announced this month, eliminated just over six full-time equivalent, non-clinical positions, saving $425,000. The institution still needs find another $1.9 million in savings before this fiscal year is done to balance its books under the Hoskins and Wynne cuts. As one person from Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital which has already suffered similar cost-cutting stated, “Once a service is gone, it doesn’t come back. It’s up to the private enterprise to take over. In other words, this is a way to privatize health care.” This isn’t health care, it is Hoskins care.

The situation is sadly similar across the province.  In the Niagara region, an international health expert recently outlined that the plan to close five hospitals is a risk to patient safeity and, "lacks any rational justification... contains glaring omissions... is striking for its lack of even the most rudimentary analysis of local population and communities, demographic pressures, health needs, or logistical and access issues” With the closures, the Niagara Health System plan is to increase occupancy for complex continuing care beds to over 97%. Current occupancy for complex continuing care is over 93% according to LHIN documents. A safe level of bed occupancy is considered to be below 82%. 

There are other stories resulting from rural hospital closures in Ontario like one woman who stated that her diabetic father was admitted into the Port Colborne hospital after he was infected with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Her 84-year-old mother was left with no way of getting to Port Colborne to visit him in his death bed. “I think that’s inhumane,” she said. “They should be taking that sort of thing into consideration.”

And sadly, all of this does not even begin to touch upon the double talk and dangerous position the government is taking on the provinces home care. Or, the $14 Billion the Harper government is cutting from Ontario's health care that only garners passing remarks from the premier. 

This government has a choice, but it has decided not to put the interest of people before private profits. The people of Ontario deserve better.

Quotes:

“We must send the message to all political parties that our health is not for sale. Too many people have fought too hard and too long to end up being left with so very little. Unlike this government, the people of Ontario think access to quality health care in their community is right and not a privilege. These hospital cuts are about two different sets of values, ours and theirs.” —Michael Butler, Health Care Campaigner, Council of Canadians

"Patients and families are ending up in emergency wards after being discharged too soon from hospitals to inadequate homecare. We will be working with patient advocacy groups across the province to protest further cuts to hospitals and privatization of our services. In solidarity with hospital workers, health professionals, nurses and doctors we are joining the days of action to protect patient care in this province." —Julie Devaney, Patient with chronic care needs, Spokesperson for the Toronto Health Coalition

“Our coalition of senior citizens’ organization is deeply disturbed at the dismantling of our most cherished social program Medicare. Hospitals are off-loading and out-sourcing health care services previously covered under OHIP. Patients are discharged quicker and sicker while home care, meant to sustain aging at home, is being cut and privatized. The alternative to the principles of the Canada Health Act is privatized for-profit health care where you get only what you can afford. Seniors who fought for the creation of Medicare in Canada will not go quietly into the night.” —Derrell Dular, Managing Director, Older Canadians Network

“Unifor members will be joining in the OHC Days of Action in their communities to support access and ensure the quality and safety of these vital hospital services.  Our hospitals in Ontario are critical to ensuring care for our growing and gaining population throughout the province.  Adequate funding is essential to their ability to serve that role.” —Katha Fortier, Ontario Director, Unifor

"The registered nurses of Ontario know the impact that cuts are having on our patients. We have seen the loss of almost half a million hours of highly skilled RN care from our hospitals in 2015 alone. As ONA members and RNs, we advocate for our patients. They depend on us to speak out to protect their care more than ever." —Linda Haslam-Stroud, President, Ontario Nurses Association

“Hospital staff are exhausted emotionally, seeing patients too frail and ill refused admission or sent home prematurely and abandoned, with a false promise that homecare will be in place for them. The Health Coalition’s escalation of the campaign against the hospital funding cuts has our enthusiastic support.” —Michael Hurley, President, OCHU/Canadian Union of Public Employees

“Families are not experiencing a transfer of services from hospital to community, but from hospital to privately paid settings outside of Medicare. This is not what Ontarians voted for.” —Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union

Our allies will be holding rallies in the following communities with more to be announced:

  • Northeastern Ontario Day of Action
    MPP Glenn Thibeault’s office in Sudbury, 555 Barry Downe Road, Unit 4B, Sudbury Ontario
    Friday, April 17, 12 p.m.
  • Hamilton/Niagara Day of Action
    Friday, May 22 
  • Ottawa and Region Day of Action
    Friday, June 12
  • Southwestern Ontario Day of Action
    Friday, June 26