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Health care in North a ‘silent crisis’

Posted: May 5, 2016

(May 5, 2016)

Author:  Gord Young, The Nugget

Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas is calling for improved health care funding to stem the cuts to jobs, beds and patient care at hospitals in Northern Ontario.

“Health care in the North is the silent crisis of this Liberal government. Patients know it. And families feel it. But the premier refuses to listen,” she said in the legislature Wednesday.

Gelinas said the NDP supports the Ontario Health Coalition’s plan to hold a voluntary, province-wide referendum later this month on the issue of hospital cuts.

“People want to have a voice,” she said, noting there is a lot of frustration in the North.

Gelinas said there isn’t a day that goes by that her office isn’t fielding a complaint about the health-care system. And, she said, the brunt of that frustration is often borne by front-line workers.

She suggested a referendum will help give people a voice on the issue and direct their frustrations toward the decision-makers.

The referendum, announced last month, is the latest phase of an ongoing health coalition campaign.

Speaking in North Bay, Natalie Mehra said the coalition is seeking volunteers in communities throughout Ontario to help set up and manage voting boxes. She said businesses are being asked to act as polling stations and that workplaces and unions are being called upon to hold votes for employees and members.

“We want to get at least 100,000 votes,” she said.

Additional referendum details were expected to be announced this week.

Gelinas, the New Democrat critic for Health, said Northerners already face some of the greatest health inequities and have a hard enough time accessing health care.

“The last thing we need is the premier’s cuts to our hospitals,” said Gelinas, who noted how deep the cuts have been at Northern Ontario hospitals.

“Front-line workers have been laid off and beds closed across the entire North. In Sault Ste Marie, Timmins, North Bay, Atikokan, Temiskaming Shores. The list goes on,” she said, highlighting how more than 300 front-line workers have been cut at the North Bay Regional Health Centre over the past four years.

Gelinas said the Liberal government has frozen hospital budgets for four straight years, forcing hospitals in Northern Ontario and elsewhere to make cuts to meeting rising expenses.

Hospital funding levels should at least keep pace with inflation and population growth, she said, noting a one per cent boost this year isn’t enough when hospitals are facing double-digit increases for items such as drugs and electricity.

Gelinas’ remarks in the legislature came on the heels of a news conference earlier in the day by Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who also called for stable and predictable health care funding that, at a minimum, keeps pace with inflation and population growth.

“The last thing people should have to worry about is their family’s health care. Ontarians deserve health care they can count on, and that’s what the NDP is determined to deliver,” said Horwath, who noted 1,200 nursing positions have been cut in Ontario since the start of 2015.

“Instead of stability, people are watching as hundreds of nurses are fired, hospital beds are closed, and services are being cut across Ontario because this Liberal government is forcing hospitals to make decisions based on dollars and deficits, instead of what’s best for patients.”

Horwath was joined at the news conference by Mehra and Shirley Roebuck, chairwoman of the Sarnia-Lambton Health Coalition and a retired registered nurse.

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