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A serious note on saving our hospitals

Posted: May 27, 2016

(May 27, 2016)

By: Natalie Mehra, Executive Director, OHC

Ontario’s hospital cuts are the deepest in the country, and despite claims by government, the services that are being dismantled in local public hospitals are not replaced in community care. In fact, many communities are losing vital services and across the province whole categories of services are being privatized. Without any sound capacity planning, hospital redevelopment decisions seem to be driven by political opportunism and divorced from service needs. Tens of millions are wasted in renovations and redevelopments, only to find services closing down within a few years. Planning, such as it is, bears no relation to community need anymore.

The cuts are devastating. Entire community hospitals are on the line. Services like birthing; emergency departments; medical and surgical beds; mental health units; chronic care beds; surgeries and diagnostic tests; and thousands of nurses, health professionals, caregivers, and vital patient support workers and all the work they do — all of these are threatened with cuts in different communities. In many communities hospitals are running at dangerous levels of overcrowding.

By every reasonable measure, Ontario has now dropped to the bottom of the country in hospital services. We have the fewest hospital beds left – by far – of any province. Only Chile and Mexico in the entire developed world have fewer hospital beds than does Ontario. We have the least amount of nursing care per patient (both RN and RPN combined). Patients are moved out of hospital earlier in Ontario than any other province – and we have the highest readmission rates as people end up back in emergency departments.

Every service that is being cut is privatized, moved out of town or lost entirely. Patients are now required to drive longer and longer distances for care, or are being charged hundreds or even thousands of dollars in private clinics for cataract surgeries, colonoscopies and other care than used to be provided – under OHIP – in our local public hospitals. People are waiting on stretchers, in the worst cases for days, for admission to hospitals that are filled to overcapacity.

We are so concerned that we have called a volunteer-led referendum across Ontario. We will have more than 1,000 voting stations in stores, legions, churches, and workplaces by the time we hold the major community voting day on Saturday May 28.

We felt we had to do something significant enough to save these services; something that would make so visible, so undeniable the public’s opposition to the cuts and privatization, that we render it politically impossible for the government to continue to ramrod through more and more service cuts.

This is a massive undertaking. We are on track to meet our goal of at least 100,000 votes and we may be able to garner 200,000 or more. In comparison, the largest petitions one sees at the Ontario Legislature might have 20,000 signatures.

So we are very serious. We think the situation warrants it.

The goal of the “referendum” is to stop the cuts and restore a vision of public community hospitals wherein care is planned to meet community need, integrated, compassionate, democratic and responsive to communities.

Thank you to all of you who have taken part in this grassroots, volunteer-led referendum. It has been an amazing exercise in democracy. Of course there are always things we could do better and we are always learning. But the response to date is truly humbling. Literally thousands of Ontarians are involved in volunteering to help preserve their community hospitals and restore local services. This is not simply self-preservation. It is a reflection of deeply-held values that cross all political lines. All across the province people are voting to save services in others’ communities also. I have been tremendously moved by the overwhelming response.

I believe it is working. I know that we can compel Ontario’s government to listen. When a hundred thousand or more people raise their voices and state – in no uncertain terms – that the government’s policies are not in keeping with our core values and our priorities, they have no choice but to listen. Let this be a clear message: Ontarians are no longer willing to sit by and watch the services we have built over a century in our local towns be taken away. Together we can – we must – save our local public hospitals.

A heartfelt thank you, all, for your commitment and your hard work.

Natalie Mehra
Executive Director