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New coalition advocating for public hospitals in Renfrew county:

Posted: April 28, 2023

(April 27, 2023)

By: Derek Dunn, Arnprior Chronicle-Guide

Ford government continues to privatize services; MPP remains silent

The Ford government’s significant privatization of Ontario hospital services at some locations has prompted the creation of a new organization in Renfrew county, and it wants citizen input on a “referendum.”

The PC plan to use specialized private clinics to reduce wait times for hip and knee replacements, cataract surgeries, colonoscopies, MRIs and CT scans follows from the move, in recent years, to have for-profit companies offer diagnostic labs, long-term care facilities and home-care services.

MPP John Yakabuski didn’t respond to a question about the likelihood of private hospitals in the county. The Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP didn’t respond to a request for an interview on the creation of the local coalition and its claim that his PC government is rushing legislation without proper input from the public.

Critics say the government is using its majority to starve the public sector of funding, thus creating a problem for the private sector to solve. Some nurses, who say they are overworked and underpaid, are morphing to private contractors for work. Some operating rooms in Ontario, including all in Renfrew county, are open only half days due to lack of funding.

It has sparked a level of seriousness and urgency that had Leona Haley and others form the Renfrew County Health Coalition, a chapter of the Ontario Health Coalition. The non-profit and non-partisan organization has created a “community-run referendum” for May 26 and 27. “This is too important of an issue to leave up to the rest of Ontario,” Haley said. “Renfrew county residents need to become involved. The referendum will have voting booths (in public locations) and online. We can’t leave it up to residents in other parts of the province to decide.”

While she doesn’t see parts of Renfrew county hospitals privatized any time soon — as has happened in Ottawa — Haley said many people feel private clinics are inevitable. Some are concerned Premier Doug Ford could follow in former premier Mike Harris’s footsteps of privatizing a section of public health care only to personally profit from it after leaving office. Harris is the former chair of Chartwell Retirement Residences, called the largest retirement living private company in Canada. Elderly residents at private long-term care facilities suffered death and hospitalization in higher numbers than those in publicly-funded facilities.

Metroland emailed questions to Yakabuski, including one asking if Ford or other members of caucus planning to profit after leaving office in areas currently being privatized. “That is where people get suspicious,” Haley said. “Is he (Ford) doing it for his own gain?”

Haley wants co-operation, not confrontation, with the local MPP. She said defending the Canada Health Act should be non-partisan. “We don’t want to make this a political fight. We want to work with Yakabuski and (MP Cheryl) Gallant and their people to keep public health care,” she said. “Private is not better, cheaper, safer or speeds up services; that has been well documented. I don’t understand why we are moving toward it.”

Meanwhile, Ed Cashman with the Ottawa chapter of the coalition, is revealing the results of a Freedom of Information request made of the Ford government. He says the results show there is capacity at hospitals in Renfrew and Arnprior to accept Ottawa patients who are now travelling to a private clinic in Quebec. Operating rooms could be open more than half-days to help deal with wait times if only the Ford government provided funding, he added. “At a time when patients in Ottawa are travelling to a private clinic in Montreal for surgery, there is capacity in the three hospitals in Renfrew county,” Cashman said. “RVH (Renfrew Victoria Hospital) should be commended for stepping in to assist with the regional backlog of surgeries, especially at a time that they are short one surgeon in the OR.”

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