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Longer operating room hours would save lives, researcher tells Sault audience

Posted: November 7, 2023

(Novemeber 6, 2023)

By: Darren Taylor,

A small but concerned group of people gathered at the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library’s main branch Monday morning for an information session on the role of for-profit health care in Ontario.

The group listened to findings in a report titled At What Cost? Ontario hospital privatization and the threat to public health care, written by Andrew Longhurst, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives research associate.

A key recommendation contained in Longhurst’s report is for Ontario’s publicly funded hospitals to keep their operating rooms open longer for surgical procedures — during evening hours and weekends — to cut down on surgical wait times and thereby steer away from for-profit healthcare.

“We know from the Ontario Health Coalition that there are two operating rooms here in the Sault that are sitting idle,” Longhurst told Monday’s audience, referring to Sault Area Hospital.

“They’re not staffed up. They can’t perform surgeries and the other four operating rooms are likely performing very regular schedules, like a 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. standard schedule, so what we need to do is build that acute care capacity and sustain it over the long term, to staff up those operating rooms so we can perform more procedures and look at extending operating hours into evenings and weekends.”

That same change is needed at hospitals across Ontario, Longhurst said.

Longhurst is a health policy researcher at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University currently presenting his findings on a tour of Ontario communities.

“This will reduce wait times. It’s been proven again and again but that investment needs to be made. We know from the Auditor General that 34 per cent of hospitals in the province have unused operating room capacity and we need to extend and expand and make full use of this existing infrastructure that taxpayers have already paid for and have sitting in our hospitals. Let’s make use of it,” Longhurst said.

The Ontario government’s Bill 60 allows cataract surgeries and diagnostic imaging and testing to be expanded at for-profit clinics.

The government aims to increase the number of hip and knee replacement surgeries at those clinics in what the government says is a strategy to reduce wait times at publicly funded hospitals.

Despite Premier Doug Ford’s assertion that patients at for-profit clinics will pay for procedures with their OHIP cards and not their credit cards, opponents say that higher paying for-profit clinics will pull more doctors, nurses and medical technicians away from an understaffed public medical system, increasing already-long public health system wait times and endangering patients’s health and lives.

Longhurst was accompanied at Monday’s presentation by Michael Hurley, Toronto-based Ontario Council of Hospital Unions CUPE president and Al Dupuis, Blind River-based Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) spokesperson for the Sault and Algoma District.

Dupuis said extended hours for operating rooms is something the OHC fully supports and that the organization has urged the province to put that measure in place.

“They’re aware of our position. It’s a point that’s been made time and time again to the government, to say ‘look, just keep your operating rooms open.’ The government’s aware of it but that’s not their game plan. They want to satisfy whatever lobbyists they’re catering to with the for-profit strategy,” Dupuis told SooToday.

Longhurst began writing his report in January.

It was officially released Nov. 2.

While wait times for diagnostic imaging, surgeries and healthcare in general are of importance for all ages, a senior in attendance at Monday’s presentation urged young adults to be vigilant and speak out for the preservation of Ontario’s publicly funded healthcare system.

“The amazing thing is how important this is and how little attention it’s getting,” said Don Corbett.

“I think people are frustrated and frightened right now because our doctors and nurses are retiring or leaving and they’re finding themselves without a doctor to care for them. For my generation, the baby boomers, that’s frightening and alarming because most of us have grown up with the OHIP system in Ontario.”

Corbett, an OHC member, said younger people in Ontario are understandably concerned with other life issues such as the price of food, vehicle purchases and mortgages but urged them to take a closer look at Ontario political leaders’ stances on healthcare.

Corbett said for-profit healthcare delivers less and is life threatening.

“The question that we would ask young people is ‘are you aware, do you care?’ When you go to the voting booth in provincial elections, have you listened to their platforms, do you understand and can you see the repercussions of getting governments that are so private-oriented and profit-oriented that they would put the population in that kind of danger?”

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