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Protesters rally against health-care cuts outside pre-budget hearing

Posted: January 19, 2016

(January 19, 2016)

By: Dave Waddell, Windsor Star

 Windsor protesters gave Ontario’s health-care system a thorough examination Tuesday and offered a grim diagnosis.

About 60 people rallied against health-care cutbacks outside Caesar’s Windsor while another 10 health organizations made presentations during provincial pre-budget hearings.

“Ontario is now at the bottom of the country in terms of health-care funding,” Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, said during the second day of a five-city tour by an all-party committee.

“In Windsor, you’ve seen the latest example of devastating cuts with more than a 160 front-line caregivers cut.

“Declining services in the face of overwhelming need makes for unsafe health care.”

Mehra, along with Ontario Federation of Labour president Chris Buckley, were the keynote speakers at the rally.

While the protestors focused on the impact of cuts, Windsor Regional Hospital CEO and president David Musyj zeroed in on the cause.

Hospital funding has been frozen at $19 billion for the past several years and a new funding formula introduced in 2012 is costing Windsor Regional millions in lost revenue.

“Hospitals in towns like Windsor, where there’s stagnant or slow growth, are paying for the expansion of health-care services in fast-growing places like the GTA,” Musyj said.

“It cost us $10 million in this budget. It’s cost us $20 million since 2012.

“In its current form, this formula is unsustainable for us.”

Musyj added the rising cost of electricity is also damaging the hospital’s bottom line.

“We haven’t done anything different from last year, not one ounce, yet we’re going to pay $700,000 more this year on electricity,” Musyj said.

Liberal MPP Laura Albanese, parliamentary assistant to Finance Minister Charles Sousa, acknowledged even hospitals in slower growing regions of Toronto face the same challenges under the formula.

“It’s a common theme,” Albanese said. “I think the new discussion paper the Ministry of Health put out is probably going to drive some of these changes.”

Albanese said the government has offered up some extra money to WRH to ease some of the financial burden.

Carol Derbyshire, executive director of the Hospice of Windsor and Essex County, told the committee small investments in palliative care reap big savings.

A bed at the hospice’s residential unit costs $469 per day to operate, about one third of the cost of a hospital bed.

“Patients at our residence are patients that aren’t occupying hospital beds,” Derbyshire said.

Derbyshire said the hospice has to raise between $300,000 and $400,000 annually because the government grant doesn’t cover the operating costs of the residence.

“People are always surprised we have to raise money for utilities and essentials for patient services,” Derbyshire said.

Progressive Conservative finance critic Vic Fedeli said Tuesday’s presentations reflect what the committee has heard.

“We’re not seeing the forest for the trees because the Liberal government can’t find a way to set priorities,” Fedeli said.

Though the topic was different, Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara echoed the message of predictable, sustainable funding.

“It’s like a lottery getting grants for infrastructure,” said McNamara, who is also president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. “You have 25 municipalities who are happy and over 300 more towns with empty plates.”

McNamara also implored the government to address the arbitration system for emergency services contracts.

“EMS salaries are rising at more than three times the rate of inflation,” McNamara said. “The public struggles to understand why the cost adjustments for this group is so much higher than other public employees.”

McNamara said if pay increases had been in line with other municipal employees since 2002, the province would’ve saved $485 million.

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