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Bill to privatize home care being rushed through, health advocates say

Posted: June 25, 2020

(June 24, 2020)

By: Angela Gemmill, CBC News

Currently all publicly-funded home care service in Ontario is assessed and then provided through the 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs). (DGLimages/Shutterstock)

Advocates of publicly funding health care are sounding the alarm bells over new legislation under debate at Queens Park, which would restructure and privatize home care and community care services.

Currently any care offered within a patient’s home is first assessed and then provided through the 14 publicly funded Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs).

Bill 175 would change that delivery by allowing private companies to take on the work.

MPPs are debating the bill this week, while the  province is still in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas, who is also the NDP’s Health Critic, presented 20 amendments to Bill 175, which would allow for privatized home care services in Ontario. (Jean-Loup Doudard/ Radio-Canada)

NDP Health Critic France Gélinas has been fighting to stop, or at least amend the legislation.

Over the past few days the Nickel Belt MPP has brought forward more than 20 amendments to the Connecting Care Act (Bill 175).

“So far [the Conservative government has] voted each and every one of them down,” said Gelinas.

Some of the amendments included an improved work environment for personal support workers (PSWs) who provide home care, as well as changes to the competitive bidding process for contracts.

“If you win a contract because you are the lowest bidder that also means that you’re not going to pay your staff a living wage, you’re not going to give them full-time hours so you don’t have to give them any benefits and you’re not going to give them any sick days,” Gélinas said.

“None of this leads to good quality care.”

Gélinas says the recent experience with COVID-19 has shown that privatizing health care can have devastating results.

“How can you be encouraging privatization when the pandemic is showing us the drastic ending of privatizations on over 2,000 lives in our long term care system, mainly related to private long term care systems?” she said.

“And yet while this is going on they’re opening up the door to privatizations of our home and community care system.”

Fragmented, private, business-model

Dot Klein, with the Sudbury chapter of the Ontario Health Coalition, says the legislation behind Bill 175 is damaging.

“The name that they’re using is: ‘Connecting People to Home and Community Care Act 2020’ and it is not going to connect people to home. It’s going to send people to community care that is going to be fragmented, it’s going to be privatized, it’s going to be a business model, not specifically health-focused,” she said.

The registered nurse says the proposed home care legislation would add what she calls ‘user fees’ which would come out of pocket for the patient or their families.

She uses the example of northern Ontario’s vast geography and how clients would have to pay for mileage that their PSWs incur to deliver home care services, but the money would go to the private company.

“It will be on their rates.”

“It’s going to be significant user fees and we know we have older people in northern Ontario, we have a significant number of vulnerable people that don’t have a lot of money — they’re going to have to go without care.”

Klein also points to the current state of long term care following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our long term care is in shambles.”

“We really feel strongly that the Ford government is taking advantage of everything being in disarray, and trying quickly to — if you want to call it ‘Right-the-ship,’ but not taking enough time to really know what is needed and what the community wants.”

Making major health care changes during health crisis

Both Klein and Gélinas feel the government is using the current crisis to get the bill passed quickly.

“Why now, in the middle of a pandemic?” Gélinas asked.

“A lot of people who know our system inside and out are very busy hands-on right now, dealing with the pandemic and the preparations for the second wave, so they could not take time to take part.”

Gélinas thinks the lessons from COVID-19 should be taken into account before any decisions are made about home care services.

“I would like the government to step back and do a little bit of the analysis post COVID to see how to change our home care systems rather than changing it now.”

There are several rallies planned across the province on Wednesday to draw attention to the issue including one on Elm Street in downtown Sudbury, in front of the office for the North East LIHN.

“Northeastern Ontario has to know what it’s going to be and what it’s going to involve and the implications that it might have and will have to health care for our very vulnerable and our elderly in our area,” Kein said.

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