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Health coalition plans referendum on hospital cuts

Posted: April 20, 2016

(April 20, 2016)

By: Gord Young, The Nugget

The Ontario Health Coalition believes the province will put a stop to widespread hospital cuts if enough people speak out.

That’s why the group is planning to give Ontario residents a voice on the matter by organizing a province-wide referendum.

“It’s going to be a big fight,” said the coalition’s Natalie Mehra, following a town hall meeting at Emmanuel United Church in North Bay, Tuesday.

The latest phase of an ongoing campaign aimed at putting an end to cuts and restoring services that have been lost at hospitals throughout Ontario, the referendum is expected to be held late next month.

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, suggesting that’s the sort of turnout the government can’t ignore.

Additional details about the referendum are expected to be announced next week. But the ballot question will essentially ask if residents are supportive of the hospital cuts the coalition anticipates will only continue. Mehra said the coalition is certain overwhelming public sentiment is that the cuts need to stop.

In North Bay, she said, the coalition hopes for a large voter turnout given how deep the cuts have been at the local hospital.

The coalition says 60 beds have closed and more than 300 full-time, front-line and support staff have been cut at the North Bay Regional Health Centre since 2013. The cuts have been among the worst in the province, according to the group.

Merha said this will be the ninth consecutive year that health care funding has been outpaced by the rate of inflation, leaving hospitals everywhere with budget shortfalls.

Dr. Scott Daley, who was among the more than 40 people to attend Tuesday’s town hall meeting, praised the health centre’s staff for the work they do. But, he said, the cumulative effect of having to do more with less has taken a toll.

“No one sees the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, acknowledging a level of frustration among staff that has affected morale.

Others who attended the meeting voiced concerns about the level of care at nursing homes. One man asked about how effective Local Health Integration Networks have been. And another questioned the common spin that services are being moved from hospitals into the community.

But Mehra suggested that’s simply a public relations line, noting services such as surgeries, which some hospitals have reduced, aren’t done in the community.

And, she said, other services that are moved out of hospital are often privatized and come with additional costs for users.

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