Health coalition rally takes aim at province; Public health amalgamations top list of concerns
Posted: November 5, 2019
(November 5, 2019)
By: Trevor Terfloth, Chatham Daily News
Activists, labour organizations and members of the public joined forces Saturday to voice their concerns about the provincial government’s health-care policies.
Approximately 300 people, some of them arriving on a bus from other communities, attended the Ontario Health Coalition-hosted rally, at the John D. Bradley Convention Centre.
The campaign – launched in October – warns of the potential impacts of health-care cuts and consolidation of services that activists say the province has planned.
“We’re here today to send a strong message to the provincial government,” said Natalie Mehra, the coalition’s executive director.
She said there are too many unknowns associated with the proposed changes, particularly the amalgamation of Ontario’s 35 public health units into 10 organizations.
Mehra added the changes won’t improve health care, especially in rural communities, but said continued public pressure will make a difference.
“They have already, in the face of a big fight-back from municipalities, from the Ontario Health Coalition and others, started to roll back these cuts,” she said. “In the summertime, they delayed the long-term care cuts twice. They rolled back the amount of the public health-care cut and delayed the retroactivity, but they haven’t stopped the cuts.”
Mehra said Ontario has 2.24 hospital beds per 1,000 people, the lowest in Canada, while some other provinces have more than three or four beds.
The Chatham event was the first stop for the group, which plans to hold similar rallies in Toronto, Sault Ste. Marie and Ottawa.
“We need a public health-care system to be there for us,” Mehra said.
Ken Lewenza Sr., former national president for the Canadian Auto Workers union, which later merged with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada to create Unifor, was also on hand for the rally.
In an emotional speech, he called health care a human rights issue and added he believes the proposed mergers will risk lives.
“It’s inevitable something is going to happen,” he said.
Lewenza urged the Chatham crowd to get involved and continue the fight after the rally.
“I ask you not to get discouraged,” he said. “I ask you to get inspired.”
He credited health-care workers for their commitment under the pressures of long hours and high stress.
However, Lewenza said it is in the best interest of patients that staff caring for them on the floor aren’t overworked to that point.
“People should understand the dedication of those that deal with people that are aging, people that are disabled, people that are frail,” he said.
Members of the Progressive Conservative government have stated the aim of its policies is to build a public health-care system centered around the patient and redirect money to front-line services.
Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls said in a release that Ontario’s auditor general reported in 2017 that public health units are poorly co-ordinated and duplicating work while not delivering consistent service.
He said health units received approximately $776 million from the province this year, including an increase of approximately $60 million to support public health programs and services.
“We are in an ongoing dialogue and nothing is happening overnight,” Nicholls said.
Monte McNaughton, minister of labour, training and skills development, and MPP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, said in a statement that more money was spent in health care this year than at any time in Ontario’s history.
“Health care spending has increased $1.3 billion under Premier (Doug) Ford,” he said. “We also increased spending for our local health-care facilities to help small and medium-sized hospitals. Two weeks ago, for example, I announced $1.73 million in funding for the Chatham Kent Health Alliance.”
Christine Elliott, deputy premier and minister of health, recently announced that the next phase of engagement with municipalities regarding public health units will be supported by adviser Jim Pine, chief administrative officer of the County of Hastings and a former board member of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. The discussions are expected to begin this fall.