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‘No mandate’ for province’s greater use of private clinics: Health Coalition

Posted: October 29, 2022

(October 28, 2022)

By: Tom Morrison, St.Thomas Times-Journal

Members of a local health care advocacy group are calling out the provincial government for actions which they say contradict past statements.

Although members of the Progressive Conservative government made statements earlier this year against expanding the use of private hospitals, the province announced in August it would increase the number of surgeries performed at independent health facilities, Shirley Roebuck, chair of the Chatham-Kent Health Coalition, said.

“It boils down to the fact that before this election, the Ontario public were lied to,” she said during an Oct. 27 virtual news conference. “I would say to you that (Premier Doug) Ford has no mandate to be doing this because they denied categorically that they would be privatizing anything.”

Services at these private facilities are still covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan for Ontario residents.

Roebuck and leaders of other Ontario Health Coalition chapters have been warning about expanded use of private for-profit facilities since former health minister Christine Elliott made a statement in February about using independent health facilities to address a backload of surgeries after some procedures were cancelled during a COVID-19 surge.

A spokesperson for Elliott at the time told Chatham This Week in late-February that the “use or function of private hospitals and independent health facilities in Ontario is not being expanded or changed.”

An Ontario government news release from August said the province “is investing more to increase surgeries in paediatric hospitals and existing private clinics covered by OHIP.”

The Ontario Health Coalition has pointed to data from the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario, showing funding for independent health facilities increased by $13.6 million between the third and fourth quarters of the 2021-22 fiscal year ending March 31.

Judy Wolanski, a member of the Chatham-Kent Health Coalition, said her husband tried to use a private surgical hospital to address his inguinal hernia, but was denied surgery after his initial assessment.

She said his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was a concern and he was told he needed to be treated at a hospital that could handle emergencies.

“I can’t help but worry about the delay in surgeries in the future, with the government’s plans to enhance and support private health care clinics who have a history of refusing patients’ treatment,” Wolanski said.

Wolanski said her husband was scheduled to have his surgery at a local public hospital in October, two and a half years after he was denied by the private facility.

In a statement, Minister of Health Sylvia Jones’ office said the province is committed to the public health care system.

“Ontario has and will continue to have one of the largest publicly funded health care systems in the world and to support this, our government has invested $77.5 billion this year to continue to provide Ontarians with the care they need when they need it,” the statement said.

“We are working with all our health care partners to identify innovative solutions to surgical recover like expanding funding for procedures performed on evenings and weekends. These facilities already perform publicly (OHIP) funded procedures and will ensure patients have access to the health care they need and deserve.”

Roebuck said health coalitions are planning further actions to make more people aware of the use of private for-profit facilities in Ontario and why the government is moving in this direction. These will include town hall meetings and other demonstrations.

“People love our public health care,” Roebuck said. “They want it to continue. Private for-profit surgical clinics are meant to make money. They are not meant to help the public system or support the public system.”

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