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Orillia Health Coalition promotes referendum

Posted: May 18, 2016

(May 18, 2016)

By: Frank Matys, Orillia Today

Do you oppose continued hospital cuts?

That’s the question residents will be asked during a referendum aimed at safeguarding hospitals from chronic underfunding.

Organizers of the upcoming vote acknowledge the answer may be painfully obvious to patients and staff affected by budget shortfalls, but they argue the response will be difficult for the province to ignore.

“If they get several hundred thousand people voting, (the government) will be like, ‘Whoa, we’ve got to pay attention’,” Judy Hancock, co-chair of the Orillia Health Coalition told Simcoe.com during a press conference outside Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital Tuesday.

Orillia is one of more than 20 Ontario communities that will hold volunteer-led referendums under the umbrella of the Ontario Health Coalition.

The newly minted Orillia Health Coalition will shepherd that process locally, says Hancock.

“What we are trying to do is put pressure on the government from a grassroots situation that this is not going to be tolerated,” the retired teacher said. “The money needs to go to the basics, and cutting beds and nurses is not the way to go.”

Hancock lays the blame at the feet of the government, adding her husband received “fabulous” care at Orillia’s hospital during a two-month stay.

“Then they cut the geriatric day care program so he couldn’t go to that anymore,” Hancock added. “He had to find another alternative.”

The referendum arrives in the wake of cuts at hospitals across Ontario, including Orillia where 16 beds are being eliminated along with the equivalent of 35 full-time jobs.

“I don’t think that people in this area understand the impact it is going to have on them,” said Judy Storey, a staff representative with the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union. “They need to get out and speak up. Orillia is getting hit and they don’t realize how hard.”

Resident Isabelle Launchbury fears continued underfunding will inevitably lead to privatization of services, “which you have to be able to afford to access.

“It just goes against what I believe in,” Launchbury added.

The loss of beds and jobs at Orillia’s hospital is a direct result of budget pressures brought on by inadequate funding, said Dr. Richard Johnston.

“At this point, you’ve got to stand up and protest,” Johnston said.

Voting for the referendum takes place at several locations: the Orillia Fairgrounds Farmers’ Market on May 21 from 8 a.m.¬ – noon; Abernrethy’s Foodland on May 24 – 26 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; the library and Orillia Farmers’ Market on May 27 and 28 from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.; Mississaga Street East on May 27 and 28 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; St. Luke’s Church, at Prices Corner, from 8 a.m. – noon on May 28; and St. Athanasius Anglican Church from 10 a.m. – noon on May 28.

Participants must be at least 16 years of age.

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