‘Enough is enough’: Protesters rally at hospital against for-profit clinics
Posted: September 26, 2023
(September 25 2023)
By: Darren Taylor, SooToday
Approximately 40 people — including unionized healthcare workers, supporters from other unions and concerned citizens — gathered for an Ontario Health Coalition rally outside Sault Area Hospital Monday afternoon to voice their displeasure with the Ford government’s use of for-profit healthcare clinics in the province.
“The province has enough money to properly fund our hospitals and they’re deliberately choosing not to fund the hospitals,” said Al Dupuis, Blind River-based Ontario Health Coalition representative for the Sault and area while addressing the rally participants.
“We have operating rooms in most major hospitals in Ontario that sit idle after four o’clock in the afternoon and aren’t operating on weekends. If we increase the amount of time in our operating rooms by just 20 per cent, and that’s two hours a day, then we’d clear the surgical backlogs in a year in the public system if the operating rooms were funded and staffed, but that’s the key problem. For years we’ve been under-funding our hospitals in Ontario,” Dupuis said.
The Ontario government passed Bill 60, also known as the Your Health Act, in May.
Under the legislation, for-profit clinics are allowed to conduct cataract surgeries, MRI and CT scans, some gynecological surgeries and eventually knee and hip replacements under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.
That led the Ontario Health Coalition and its supporters to protest.
Calling Bill 60 a step toward a two-tiered healthcare system in the province, the OHC organized a non-binding referendum in May, asking Ontarians: “Do you want our public hospital services to be privatized to for-profit hospitals and clinics?”
Nearly 99 per cent of over 380,000 Ontarians who voted — including the majority of 5,800 Sault and Algoma citizens who cast a ballot — voted against private, for-profit healthcare.
Monday’s rally in the Sault was one of four held Monday by the OHC, along with others in Dryden, Thunder Bay and at Queen’s Park in Toronto.
“Privatization affects us in the north because most privatized care is in southern Ontario, attracting more nurses to migrate down south causing more shortages here in the north,” said Monique Storozuk, a Sault Area Hospital registered nurse and Ontario Nurses Association Local 46 coordinator speaking to SooToday.
“We are short more than 24,000 nurses in Ontario as of today. Privatization will only make that shortage worse,” Storozuk said.
Speakers at the Sault rally said more funding is needed from the province to hire more doctors and nurses to address numerous healthcare woes, including the temporary closures of some hospital emergency departments in Ontario.
“We are in crisis in the public service in Ontario. You can’t go anywhere without a lineup today if you need a public service,” said Tara Maszczakiewicz, OPSEU regional vice president, Region 6.
While criticizing private clinics, Maszczakiewicz also took aim at the Ford government’s Bill 124.
Passed in 2019, that legislation capped wage increases for public sector employees at one per cent annually for three years. Unions fought the law – which was ruled unconstitutional – and even though the province is challenging that ruling, Maszczakiewicz applauded unions in their fight against Bill 124.
Maszczakiewicz said the law has already caused harm, discouraging many nurses out of the profession and keeping others from going into it.
Jay Nixon of Batchawana Bay, a retired mental health and addictions worker, attended the rally with his family and encouraged other families to protest private healthcare.
“This is a no brainer,” Nixon said.
“My wife and three children are here at this rally. We believe that as a family this is one of the most important issues there is. One of my family members is a nurse, another is in the last year of nursing. People should bring their families to these rallies.”
Another OHC protest is planned for Queen’s Park at 12 p.m. Tuesday.
“We are concerned about for-profit healthcare,” said Dr. Claudette Holloway, a registered nurse and Registered Nurses Association president, speaking from Toronto in a phone interview with SooToday Monday.
“We do not see that for-profit healthcare will benefit any Ontarian therefore we are advocating for not-for-profit healthcare so that everyone in Ontario has equal access. For-profit healthcare tends to focus on developing funds for the stakeholders. They have no interest in what is best for Ontarians who need healthcare,” Holloway said.
Holloway said that the current system is under-utilized.
“We know that hospitals have operating rooms that are just sitting idle over the weekends and we know that there is a long waiting list for people to have surgery, so we’re saying let’s fully utilize the health care system, let’s address the nursing shortage by fairly compensating nurses. A two-tier system where some can pay and get ahead is not what we want to see.”
“It’s not fair to Ontarians and it is not the best practice,” Holloway said.