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Changes to health care system a costly mistake

Posted: November 26, 2019

(November 26, 2019)

By: Sara McCleary, Sault This Week

At the beginning of 2019, we learned of plans by the Doug Ford government to eliminate the province’s 14 local health integration networks in favour of merging all of Ontario’s health agencies under the umbrella of one “super agency.”

Earlier this month, the government announced that work was officially underway with the firing of the CEOs of nine of those LHINs.

Not the least of some very serious issues with taking these steps is the fact that it will cost millions (or billions) to complete the restructuring while doing nothing to improve health care services.

And unfortunately, we know that these aren’t the only changes being made to our health care system by the Ford government. We also know the government plans to cut the current 35 public health units down to just 10. That means the amalgamation of Algoma Public Health with health units for Sudbury, North Bay, Parry Sound, Timiskaming, Porcupine, and Simcoe Muskoka. That is a huge region for one health unit to cover, with 625,000 people.

While doing this, the budget for the province’s public health services will be cut by 27 per cent.

Those cuts have already impacted people – including my family. My son has a speech delay, likely due to his being a premie. He’s four-and-a-half years old but still speaks and comprehends others at about the level of a three-year-old. We’ve been working with APH for a couple years now and they’ve been providing him with speech therapy. Now that he’s in junior kindergarten one of the speech therapists visits him at school once a week to work with him.

This last summer we found out that regardless of the results of this current round of therapy, he would not be receiving any further treatment through APH after JK, and he would instead be passed off to a school board speech language pathologist.

When they told us this, they also mentioned that in past years students could receive therapy through to the end of senior kindergarten, but as a result of the cuts they’d had to make the decision to end therapy a year sooner.

Maybe that won’t make a difference with my son’s speech, or maybe it will have real, long-term consequences for him. Unfortunately I’ll never know, but it’s not right that someone who needs treatment has to be denied because of budget cuts. And this isn’t even a life-saving treatment – I can only imagine what others must be going through.

On top of the public health cuts, the Ford government plans to cut the number of local paramedic ambulance services down to just 10, province-wide. Right now there are 59. This does nothing to address the cause of long ambulance response times or provide more life-saving services.

To my knowledge, we’ve been lucky in the Sault to date – I’m not aware of anyone calling for an ambulance that took hours to arrive because all were already in use. But that’s definitely happened in other cities. Last month, Hamilton made public that they had several hours in which their paramedics were operating at “code zero,” meaning that no ambulances were available to respond to calls because they were all waiting at hospitals to transfer patients out of the ambulances into the emergency rooms.

Health care is something that shouldn’t be messed with. Our system isn’t perfect, but we don’t need real dollar cuts and we don’t need to spend billions on restructuring. Because yes, it will cost billions. When Mike Harris tried a large-scale restructuring of the hospital system in Ontario, it ended up costing the province $3.9 billion. By all accounts, Ford’s plan will be at least as costly.

If the provincial government wants to spend billions, it should put it into hiring more health care practitioners or supporting those who want to go to school to get into health care but can’t due to the cost, or into the purchase and/or development of new technologies. To spend billions on bureaucracy and administration is ludicrous.

But the good news is, the PCs have shown that with enough public outcry they will backpedal. They’ve done it with their changes to the autism funding system, so we need to try to convince them to do it with their planned changes – and cuts – to healthcare.

And that’s why this is on my mind right now. I’m working with the local branch of the Ontario Health Coalition to organize a rally here in the Sault on Monday, Nov. 30 at noon, at the George Leach Centre. It’s one of four being held this fall across the province to show Ford the public does not support or approve of his changes and cuts, and to convince his government to change its mind.

I’ve found that a lot of people had no idea of the plans for Ontario’s health care system, so the rally will be an opportunity to hear from some speakers to learn more about the planned changes and their impact, and to show Ford and his PCs that the people won’t stand for such a costly mistake.

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