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Lambton pushing against health care cuts

Posted: October 25, 2019

(October 22, 2019)

By: Tyler Kula, The Sarnia Observer

Sarnia’s mayor and health care watchdogs are calling for the provincial government to back off plans to consolidate public health units in Ontario.

Local health-care watchdogs and Sarnia’s mayor announced Tuesday at Sarnia city hall they’re calling for community support to push for a reversal on planned provincial health care cuts. From left are Shirley Roebuck, with the Sarnia Lambton Health Coalition, ONA member Emily Webb, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, and OPSEU executive board member Laurie Nancekivell.

Sarnia’s mayor and local health-care watchdogs are calling for the provincial government to back off plans to consolidate public health units in Ontario.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” said Mike Bradley, joining representatives from the Sarnia Lambton Health Coalition, the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) at city hall Tuesday.

Lambton County council unanimously approved a resolution recently calling for the halt of planned public health and ambulance service mergers, and cuts to hospital and long-term care home services, Bradley said.

He hopes other municipalities follow suit with similar resolutions, Bradley said.

“We all access universal health care at some point in our lives,” said public health nurse and ONA Local 19 member Emily Webb.

Public health is the foundation of our health-care system, she added, and merging 35 public health units into 10 will cripple local voices and decision making.

“Local service providers know the community and they know what they need and they know how to provide it,” said Shirley Roebuck of the local health coalition chapter.

Centralizing dispatch in London for areas such as Sarnia-Lambton, Chatham-Kent and others virtually eliminates that local knowledge, she said.

“The example I’m giving is what if a child phoned about their parent and the child says, ‘We live in the house behind WalMart.’ Is any dispatch in London going to know exactly where that little road is? They won’t,” she said, warning the outcome of consolidation could be poorer response times and poorer outcomes for patients.

“What we’re asking is the government rethink these plans to centralize services and take a look at their funding formula because health care certainly needs (more funding).”

Amid opposition, the provincial Tories backed off, to a degree, funding reductions for municipalities earlier this year but still plan to proceed with public health mergers.

A series of rallies are planned, including one in Chatham-Kent on Nov. 2, to put pressure on the government to reverse that decision, Roebuck said.

Other pushes include for more money for hospital services and long-term-care home staffing, which have been severely cut over the years in Ontario, as well as for more autonomy for paramedics to treat patients and release them if appropriate, or bring them to mental health care services if needed, instead of hospital, to reduce emergency room backlogs.

“I’m really calling on people in Sarnia-Lambton to reach out to their MPPs, to have their voices heard, and to attend the rally on Nov. 2 in Chatham and make sure that patients come first,” said OPSEU executive board member Laurie Nancekivell.

Similar regional rallies are planned in Sault Ste. Marie, Ottawa and Toronto, Roebuck said.

The Chatham-Kent rally runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 2. A bus to bring people there leaves from the Lambton public health office in Point Edward at 9 a.m., she said, inviting people to call her at 226-402-2724 for more information.

A lot of the pressure to slow the government so far has come from this region, Bradley said.

“They actually backed off their original plan, which was to just implement this,” he said, arguing Sarnia-Lambton should be a model for other health units in Ontario.

The local unit 20 years ago went through a cost-saving exercise that eliminated duplication with the county, he said.

“We know we have a very good community health services,” he said. “Why would you play around with it?”

The pressure campaign is launching now before the provincial legislature resumes, Roebuck said.

“Before that happens, we want them to know to back off.”

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