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‘Demand public health-care options be expanded’: Durham group pushing back against privatization

Posted: March 3, 2022

(March 1, 2022)

By: Keith Gilligan, The Star

Cathy Parkes spoke at a session hosted by the Durham Health Coalition, talking about her father, who died of COVID-19 at Orchard Villa in Pickering in April 2020. She warned more privatization in the long-term-care sector could lead to poor care for older
Cathy Parkes spoke at a session hosted by the Durham Health Coalition, talking about her father, who died of COVID-19 at Orchard Villa in Pickering in April 2020. She warned more privatization in the long-term-care sector could lead to poor care for older  ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE/TORONTO STAR

The Ontario Health Coalition, including the Durham Health Coalition (DHC), will be holding an emergency meeting March 29 to fight the provincial government’s plans to privatize more long-term-care beds.

Pam Parks, a member of the DHC and of the executive of CUPE Local 6364, which covers workers at Lakeridge Health, said the province is planning to privatize 18,000 long-term-care beds to for-profit companies and give them 30-year operating contracts.

During a Zoom meeting on Monday, Feb. 28, Michael Hurley, the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, said Ontario leads the OECD in the number of long-term-care residents who died and three-quarters of those deaths happened in for-profit long-term-care facilities.

Orchard Villa, a for-profit long-term-care home in Pickering, had 71 deaths during the pandemic.

“The average death rates at for-profit facilities was 5.7 per cent and, of course, some of the chains and some of the institutions that Orchard Villa would be an example, was much, much higher than that. That compared to the 2.8 per cent for the not-for-profits and 1.4 per cent for the municipal homes for the aged. A stunning difference and, of course, it’s largely explained by the fact that the not-for-profits and the municipal homes for the aged have higher staffing levels of about 25 per cent higher,” Hurley said.

He said private hospitals or independent facilities would be competing for staff members, including doctors and nurses, with the publicly-funded hospitals, Hurley noted.

“There are only so many workers. So, how do you staff up in the private sector? You recruit them from the public sector. How do you do that? You pay more,” he said.

“We’re here today on behalf of the Ontario Health Coalition; if there’s one lesson that should be drawn from the terrible suffering of the residents who died of heartbreak, malnutrition, dehydration and neglect in these long-term-care facilities and the suffering of their families, if there’s one thing should be brought from that, we cannot afford the confusion that comes when profit and care get combined,” he said.

Cathy Parkes’ father died at Orchard Villa on April 15, 2020 in the first wave of COVID.

She noted Orchard Villa, one of the homes where the military was called in to help during the early days of the pandemic, has applied to the province for a 30-year operating licence and 87 more beds.

“Yet, they have not been held to accountability in what happened in that home,” she said.

Parkes said the government seems to be hoping enough time will pass and the public will forget.

“I’ll never forget my father and I’ll never forget the people he lived with. I still see their faces. They all had families. They all had people who loved them. They didn’t deserve to die that way.”

Charlene Van Dyk has been a front-line worker in Durham for almost 23 years.

“I have a front-row seat to the staffing shortages and high workloads that the provincial and federal underfunding of health care services has caused. I have also experienced what the underfunding in long-term care looks like and the impact of not enough staff,” she said.

She noted the health-care system is “under attack every day” and the public needs to fight for it.

“We need to demand that the public health-care options be expanded, not private ones,” Van Dyk said.

Lance Livingstone, co-chair of the Durham Health Coalition, said his mother was turned away from a for-profit home because of the amount of care she would have needed.

“Get rid of the profit homes. There should not be anybody making a profit off of our seniors for what they’ve given to this province and this country.”

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