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Politicians change health care at their peril

Posted: June 11, 2023

(June 10 2023)

By: David Shearman, Owen Sound Sun Times (Print Edition)

The hospital in Minden, Ont., closed its doors on June 1.

There is now a telephone beside the door which will connect you with the hospital in Haliburton, about 25 minutes away.

To put that into Grey Bruce terms, imagine that instead of a brand new hospital waiting to open in Markdale, the provincial government decided to close the old hospital. Next to the front door is a phone that will connect you with the Owen Sound hospital. That is Minden’s reality.

The Minden hospital was closed on six weeks’notice by Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) based on “an evidence-based decision, which was made in the best interest of our community,” according to David O’Brien, chair of the HHHS board of directors.

The evidence for the decision has not been made public. The president and CEO of HHHS, Carolyn Plummer, said “We’ve heard from and are responding to the needs of our clinical staff, who are experts when it comes to patient safety and delivering high-quality care. This decision is about maintaining the safety of our patients, the sustainability of our services and the care our patients receive, and the well-being of our staff teams.”

If I read between the lines, the statements suggest that the staff could no longer provide quality of care under the existing site regime.

Hospitals are complex organizations driven by a variety of standards. Some are set in regulation; some are set by contracts with employees and some standards are from professional organizations. Most of us want our health care to be there when we need it. Change that challenges our security and wellbeing makes us very anxious.

A variety of solutions have been proposed to Ontario’s and Canada’s health-care issues. The Ontario government has made the choice of funding private clinics to do specific high demand medical procedures such as hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery. This should not come as a surprise.

The government has accepted the argument that private providers can do certain medical procedures more efficiently and at lower cost than our current public health care system.

The argument is false. A recent study in Quebec between 2018 and 2020 shows that surgeries performed in the private sector are more expensive than those in the public sector, sometimes more than 150 per cent.

According to one researcher, in 2019-2020, the cost of a carpal tunnel surgery averaged $908 in the private sector compared to $495 in the public sector; a short colonoscopy cost $739 in the private sector compared to $290 in a public institution.

Part of the reason costs are higher in the private sector is that private medical care has one goal, to maximize shareholder return. That is called making a profit.

While Canadians may not ever see a bill from medical procedures performed in a private clinic or in a public hospital, we will all end up paying for heath care costs through our taxes, be they income taxes or sales taxes. Some of that money will add to the profits of private health care providers and not be returned in system enhancements in a non-profit system.

This is what makes the recent poll by the Ontario Health Coalition and its allied groups so important. They held a public poll asking if the people of Ontario would like their public hospital services to be privatized to for-profit hospitals and clinics.

Nearly 400,000 people voted in person and on line. In the interest of transparency, one of the churches I served was used as a polling place by the local organization, the Grey Bruce Health Coalition.

There were 9,889 ballots cast in Grey Bruce. Only 132 ballots were cast in favour of privatizing public hospital services.

Ford has dismissed the ballot, but he ignores it at some risk. He will have to do a better job dealing with the reality of a health care system which is deeply challenged. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound.

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