Local voters reject paying private clinics to reduce surgical backlogs
Posted: June 2, 2023
(June 1, 2023)
By: Scott Dunn, Owen Sound Times
Grey-Bruce voted almost unanimously against the Ontario government’s decision to expand publicly funded medical procedures, diagnostic imaging and surgeries done in private clinics.
The Ontario Health Coalition vote May 27-28 had 9,889 votes against and 132 in favour of changes the government enacted May 18 in Bill 60, the Your Health Act, which it says will tackle surgical backlogs, including expanded access to cataract operations.
In January, the province also announced the new private clinics would expand MRI and CT scanning this year, and next year would expand hip and knee replacements, all to be paid with an OHIP card, not a credit card, Premier Doug Ford has promised.
The coalition said in a release that about 390,000 ballots were cast so far province-wide, 98 per cent in favour of stopping health-care privatization. Some Northern Ontario ballots remain to be counted.
Chesley resident Brenda Scott helped place local ballots with others on tables set outside the legislature doors in Toronto Wednesday morning, before a news conference there.
She’s with Grey Bruce County Health Coalition, an affiliate of the provincial organization. She has also helped organize a group calling for a return to a 24/7 emergency department, rather than daytime hours during the week currently at the Chesley hospital.
She said the referendum sought to help persuade the government to rescind Bill 60 and stop underfunding hospitals and services.
It’s hospital underfunding that has led to surgical wait lists in the first place, Scott said. Hospital operating rooms have idle hours that could be utilized with more funding to address staffing, she said.
“If you put money into the health-care system, and you look at that staffing issue, you could probably clear that backlog in no time. If you can attract the staff.”
Scott puts the blame for the shortage of nurses, doctors and other medical staff at the feet of the government.
Nurses are “over-stressed and underpaid” but their contract negotiations have gone to arbitration, while the Ford government has appealed a court decision that wage-cap legislation was unconstitutional, she observed. “So there are a lot of staffing issues that I think our government created.”
And telling people looking for a faster way to get a cataract fixed that all they need is an OHIP card fails to mention related out-of-pocket expenses like anaesthetist services, Scott said. “There are people already who I’ve met who’ve had a sad situation arise.”
Scott also views expanded privatized medical care with public money as a threat to hospitals, particularly small rural ones because they need more funding.
When ERs are closed or operating only part-time, the existence of that hospital is in jeopardy because their doctors go elsewhere for better pay, she said. That makes it more likely the hospital will close too, she said.
“Small, rural hospitals they provide close proximity for those emergency situations that arise, strokes, accidents, etc.,” she said. “We really feel there are lives at stake when this system is compromised.”
The Ontario Health Coalition says the new clinics won’t be temporary but rather will have contracts that start at five years or longer. “Once for-profit clinics are in and have taken over our public hospital services, it will be extremely difficult, if at all possible to get them out.”
A coalition news release says that those using existing private clinics in the province “are being charged thousands of dollars for cataract surgery — far in excess of the $550 cost under OHIP — and they are being charged on top of OHIP for these services, and they are doing so with impunity.”
It calls tackling surgical backlogs with more done in private clinics “a political choice to privatize.”
Scott said people recruited locally to help conduct the vote have indicated they want to do more. “Provincially, similar discussions are taking place. Like what should we do next?” Scott said there’s talk of leaving the coalition’s online voting open for the summer.