Connect  |  Newsletter  |  Donate

OHC town hall targets privatization

Posted: May 6, 2024

(May 4, 2024) By: Ron Jokelainen, First Local News

Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) Executive Director Natalie Mehra says public healthcare in Ontario is “at the edge, the precipice” and the province is in clear danger of losing it.

“Every public meeting I go to, I’m on panels with doctors, nurses, health professionals, policy people and leaders of organizations and everyone, universally, says that it’s never been so bad,” says Mehra.

“It’s completely unacceptable. This is not normal,” she adds.

Mehra was the keynote speaker at an OHC town hall Thursday night in Sault Ste. Marie.

Speakers also included Randy Robinson, Ontario Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, France Gelinas, Nickel Belt MPP and NDP Health Critic, Dr. Marlene Spruyt, Green Party Health Critic and Dr. Jonathan DellaVedova, a Sault Ste. Marie pediatrician.

Robinson, Gelinas, Spruyt and Dr. DellaVedova, in Toronto for a conference, appeared by Zoom.

The OHC says the Ford government is busy privatizing healthcare and under-funding public health.

“In your community, you’ve got thousands of patients de-rostered, with no access to primary care, except to go to the emergency department,” Mehra told the gathering, referring to the Group Health Centre’s (GHC) Jan. 25 announcement that it planned to de-roster 10,000 patients due to a lack of primary care providers.

She says ads for private clinics are displayed in Toronto’s subway system.

As a result of dwindling public health care options, says Mehra, people are seeking out healthcare wherever they can find it, whether its private clinics or travelling to the United States.

“If we run it to the ground, if they create the conditions of staff shortages like we have never seen before and drive the staff out of the public system and then allow more private clinics to flourish…then we’ve lost single-tier healthcare,” says Mehra.

Mehra says there are solutions that don’t involve privatization, which she says is not an “add on, but a takeaway.”

Privatization costs more, she says. Membership or subscription to a private clinic can cost $400 annually, and the costs don’t end there.

She says it takes staff out of the public system, leaving patients with the most complex conditions behind while taking only patients deemed most profitable.

“It’s a terrible model for the south,” says Mehra, “and even worse for northern Ontario. It results in the kinds of inequities in suffering that led to the creation of public healthcare in the first place.”

A better alternative she says is to build healthcare teams, where healthcare professionals, including audiologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, nurse practitioners and social workers could serve to their full potential.

She said the teams concept is not new, likening it to the system successfully employed at the GHC.

Gelinas called the GHC is the “jewel” in Northern Ontario and the jewel in the Ontario healthcare system.

An executive director with a community health centre in Sudbury for 13 years before entering politics, Gelinas says everybody in Northern Ontario is “a little bit jealous” of the GHC.

“What we are witnessing right now, has a horrible impact on the 10,000 people that are about to lose access to primary care, but it’s way, way bigger than this,” said Gelinas. “It has an impact on all of Northern Ontario, that for decades now, has looked at the (GHC) for best practice” in delivering primary and inter-disciplinary care in the north.

A lot of things, we learned from you. We learned from Sault Ste. Marie,” says Gelinas. “We learned from what the Group Health Centre had piloted, had started, had put in place, and we copied it throughout northeastern Ontario.”

Gelinas says the shortage of physicians in the north is not a new problem and barring “a miracle” it won’t be going away anytime soon.

She said the GHC applied more than a year ago to the Minister of Health for funding.

“The Minister of Health never even answered,” Gelinas told the group.

With the GHC’s current funding model tied to the number of physicians it has, the centre is losing revenue at a time it needs it the most.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” says Gelinas. “The (GHC) knows how to make things better.”

Robinson’s presentation centred on provincial health care spending. He said the province claims health care spending is increasing but that a recent spike was mainly due to Covid, said Robinson.

He said provincial healthcare spending in the past 10 years is actually just average when adjusted for inflation.

“They are using big numbers to make people think they are doing big things, said Robinson, “when in fact the opposite is true.”

The provincial budget, he noted, includes a plan to add 3,000 beds over the next 10 years. With Ontario’s population at 16 million, the new beds will not begin to keep pace with population growth, says Robinson.

“Even though we’re getting these new beds, eventually,” says Robinson, “we’re actually falling behind.”

Dr. DellaVedova has been practising medicine in the Sault for the past 11 years. A board member of the GHC, DellaVedova says he’s not looking to point fingers or assign blame for the province’s health care issues.

Newborns, kids with cancer, teenagers battling depression, pregnant mothers-to-be, senior citizens with complex health problems are among the patients who will struggle as a result of de-rostering at GHC, says Dr. DellaVedova.

He says one major reason for the shortage of family doctors is that graduates are choosing other avenues in the medical profession rather than rostering a practice of their own. Administrative work has become burdensome, costs are high – and climbing – and net remuneration has declined over the years.

“It really just doesn’t make any sense to run a family medicine practice anymore.”

The GHC, says Dr. DellaVedova remains one of the more attractive places for doctors interested in rostering a practice. GHC’s structure includes nursing support, on-site specialists and access to on-site diagnostic imaging.

He says there are still 300 family doctors and 30 specialists still practicing at GHC.

“The reason that we stay, is because there are incredible collaborations and efficiencies that occur every single day (at GHC). I just think we do a poor job of capturing and measuring those,” Dr. DellaVedova explained.

Dr. Spruyt described Ontario’s current level of healthcare as “abysmal.”

“Our government’s attempts to fix by privatizing, are off the wall,” says Dr. Spruyt. It’s an outrage across the province, particularly in Sault Ste. Marie. Ten thousand is a huge number to be de-rostered.”

Dr. Spruyt a decade of “under-investment” is the primary problem that is compounded by both an aging and growing population.

Spending, she said, must be raised to a level where it’s at least average, and a greater focus on primary care is also needed.

“It’s going to take a while because of a number of issues to try and correct that, Said Dr. Spruyt. “The group health system is one of the ways…team-based care…but there are several different kinds of teams across the province. The funding for these team-based programs and hospitals needs to be more flexible.

Enrolment in nursing and medical schools is increasing but “that’s going to take at least four years for a nurse and six years for a family doctor.”

The Ontario Health Coalition currently represents more than 500 member organizations in Ontario and a network of local health coalitions and individual members, nurses and health professionals’ organizations, seniors’ groups, family councils, poverty and equality-seeking groups and others.

Mehra says the OHC has planned a May 30 Protest and March at Roberta Bondar Pavilion to protect health care.

“We need a show of thousands. We need a show of strength,” says Mehra. “The Ford government has to see overwhelming opposition to privatization that exists out there. The biggest thing we have to fight is people thinking that they’ll never lose their healthcare, but we are losing it.”

Click here for the original article