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Health coalition holding ‘referendum’ on for-profit clinics expansion plan

Posted: April 19, 2023

(April 20th, 2023)

By: Tyler Kyla, Chatham Daily News

A provincial health care watchdog group is asking people to vote on whether they’re in favour of a provincial plan to expand the private delivery of public health care. The goal is to get one million participants, said Shirley Roebuck with the Ontario Health Coalition’s Sarnia-Lambton and Chatham-Kent chapters.

“And we do not believe that any political party in their right mind will be able to ignore one million votes,” she said. Voting stations are being set up in various stores and select workplaces May 26 and 27, and online voting starts May 2, Roebuck said. Details about voting locations are expected at publichospitalvote. ca by April 28, she said.


The government announced in January it would be funding clinics to perform more cataract surgeries, MRI and CT scans, colonoscopies, hip and knee replacements and other procedures. Worries are that could spell the end of the existing cataract clinic at Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital in Petrolia, Roebuck said. For-profit clinics for cataracts have been announced for Ottawa, Kitchener and Windsor. “Obviously the government is not going to pay for two programs,” Roebuck said, adding she’s also worried subsequent clinics will be built in larger centres where the market is better, and rural and community hospitals will suffer. “If (Premier Doug Ford is) going to move these surgical programs, he’s not going to give hospitals the same funding he did last year,” she claimed, adding that would mean a reduction in services.


“You will lose doctors to these clinics because they want to operate,” she said. There are no plans to reduce the 1,300 cataract surgeries a year currently done at the Pat Mailloux eye centre in Petrolia, said Bluewater Health chief of staff Michel Haddad. The government has said the expansion of for-profit clinics, where OHIP still pays for patients, is to help ease pressure on the hospital system. But wait lists aren’t a problem for cataract surgeries in Petrolia, Haddad said, where 90 per cent are seen within three months. “We have one of the shortest wait times,” he said, noting there are talks about ramping up the number of surgeries to 1,600 a year. The clinic opened in 2009, and two doctors operate there two days a week, officials said. Similarly with hip and knee procedures, Bluewater Health did more last year than ever – 1,000 – and has requested that be its new base for funding for the procedures each year, up from 650, Haddad said. The issue, he said, is the lack of people available to work in existing programs in Ontario. It’s unknown what the effect of expanding for-profit clinics will have on that staffing supply, he said.


But generally Bluewater Health, which oversees hospitals in Petrolia and Sarnia, is doing its best to expand services locally, he said. “There’s no plans to scale anything down, regardless of what’s happening with the government or privately funded clinics.” As for what happens with the referendum results, Roebuck said there are plans to have them counted and at Queen’s Park by May 30, nothing the health coalition is “not going to insist people vote one way or the other.”


Roebuck has warned expanding for-profit clinics will leech staffing from the public system and diminish public health care, and called instead for Ontario to boost health care spending per capita, which lags per-capita spending in other provinces. It’s not expected the expansion of for-profit clinics will have any impact on a $41-million Chatham-Kent Health Alliance request to expand the Wallaceburg Hospital, she said. “I think they will proceed with that … but it’s not going to help if we don’t have a strong, viable hospital in Chatham,” she said.


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