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City urging Ontario government to rethink health care changes

Posted: November 5, 2019

(October 28, 2019)

By: Joelle Kovach, The Peterborough Examiner

City councillors want to call on Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government to halt all its plans for mergers and funding cuts to health care in the province.

At a meeting on Monday, council was expected to vote to send a resolution to Queen’s Park asking the government to put a stop to the planned mergers of health units and ambulance services.

Councillors have also said they want to urge the provincial government to reverse its stance on planned funding cuts to hospitals and long-term-care homes.

The resolution as proposed by Coun. Keith Riel earlier this month, and got preliminary approval; on Monday, it was up for final approval.

Although council didn’t vote in time for The Examiner’s print deadline, councillors did hear early in the meeting from Peterborough Health Coalition spokesman Roy Brady on his views about the province’s funding of health care.

Brady said there was “a serious lack of consultation on health care,” saying that no one was asked their opinion — not the public, and not city councillors.

He also said there will be health effects from climate change and the province needs to consider that.

Then Brady added that hospitals — including Peterborough Regional Health Centre — have more patients than beds, and therefore are resorting to “hallway medicine” (which he noted the Conservative party campaigned to abolish).

Meanwhile the Ontario Health Coalition is asking individual city councils to lobby the provincial government to stop the planned changes and mergers. They are conducting a provincewide campaign with protests and rallies, including one on Nov. 9 at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto.

Early at the same meeting on Monday, Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith took questions on a range of subjects from city councillors.

He was asked by Coun. Henry Clarke how proposed mergers to health units that would anyone; he said health promotion shouldn’t be lumped into health care in general.

“Health care saves provincial money in so many ways,” he said, yet the province is cutting back in this area.

But Smith said the idea is to focus more on the patient.

“The focus is not on the system — it’s on the people who need the help,” he said. “Those are the changes we are making.”

Here is how those mergers and cuts are expected to affect health care locally:

Peterborough Public Health

The provincial government under Premier Doug Ford plans to cut $200 million in provincial funding and merge several public health units so they number 10 rather than the current 35.

It could mean Peterborough Public Health merges with four other health units: Durham Region Health Department, Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit, and the Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Health Unit.

With such a large catchment area, this new health unit would serve 1.1 million people instead of 100,000 served by Peterborough Public Health.

Peterborough County-City Paramedics

The provincial government has also announced it plans to streamline Ontario’s 35 ambulance services into 10 — although it was still unclear on Monday how that might affect services locally.

Chief of Paramedics Randy Mellow said in an interview this spring that he didn’t expect any layoffs this year — even though the provincial government cut back $250,000 for 2019, which Mellow said freezes the funding at 2017 levels.

Mellow said in the spring he’d look for efficiencies while keeping patients and patient care a priority.

Peterborough Regional Health Centre

The Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions stated this summer that provincial government underfunding will leave PRHC short 53 beds and 280 staff members within five years.

Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith said in the summer he disagrees “wholeheartedly” with the study’s findings, saying the government is looking to eliminate duplication with health care reorganization.

Fairhaven long-term-care home

The home, which is jointly owned by the city and county, is facing a shortfall of $306,000 in annual revenue reductions from the provincial government, according to executive director Lionel Towns in September.

Although the government had just announced the restoration of two funds for staffing, and the establishment of a new fund for capital projects, Towns said it wouldn’t make up for decreases elsewhere.

Towns wrote in a release to The Examiner Sept. 20 that funding for day-to-day care for residents, for example — which covers items such as food — won’t keep up with inflation, so he counts it as part of an overall reduction of $306,000.

Meanwhile it costs more every year in nondiscretionary costs to operate Fairhaven, Towns wrote — typically $350,000 to $400,000 more — yet government funding continues to decrease.

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